Falklands : In the Net With Carleton, Wallace and Sawle
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 13.11.2004 (Article Archived on 27.11.2004)
Sian Ferguson of FIBS asks probing questions about the Mussel industry in the Falkland Islands.
IN THE NET WITH CARLETON, WALLACE AND SAWLE
A Report for FIBS by Sian Ferguson (SF) 11/11/04
I have in the studio with me, ďCrickĒ Carleton (CC) from Nautilus Consultants, who arrived in the Islands six days ago and Stuart Wallace (SW) and Dick Sawle (DS) from the Mussel Development Group. Crick is looking into the feasibility of a commercial Mussel industry in the Falklands.
SF: First of all, Crick, what made you decide to come to the Falklands?
CC: We were contracted to undertake a study so it is a natural part of our work that we would do some background in the UK and in Europe and then come down here and understand the local situation.
SF: What experience do you have in the Mussel industry?
CC: I have looked at shellfish development on a business prospective but my colleague, John Holmyard, who is down with me is actually a Mussel farmer with some 17 yearsí experience with his own company.
SF: Can you tell us a little bit about what you have done for the industry before you came to the Falklands?
CC: Typically, we looked at seafood industry development from both the fishing prospective, the onshore handling, processing, etc. and then the market. Thatís what we have been doing in shellfish and Muscles, Cockles, Lobsters, Crabs, that sort of thing. So thatís what we have been doing on Mussels.
SF: And, from what youíve seen so far, do you think that the development of a commercial Mussel industry in the Falklands is realistic?
CC: From what weíve seen so far, we are very happy that we have seen a wide range of the conditions here, that we think they are supportive of an industry. The proof will come out in the analysis of the financial figures on the business case. I think we have to take onboard that the Falklands have a certain amount of disadvantages in position and costs.
SF: And what are they?
CC: Costs are generally higher than their competitors in other parts of the world. And, to overcome those, we need to achieve economies of scale to claw back as much of the advantage as we can. But we think it is certainly feasible in concept. What are going to have to do is prove it in actuality.
SF: And, who have you been working with since youíve been here?
CC: I think we have actually visited most elements of the economy here from Government through private enterprises and fishing companies. Weíve been out in Camp. John has been in Camp every day since weíve been here except yesterday and heís off again today. So, I think weíve got a fair spread of the people who would conform our work and are likely to take the business forward.
SF: What requirements do you think are needed for the development of the Mussel industry here?
CC: We need to know that Mussels grow here and that they can be grown in a semi-controlled environment. Clearly there are Mussels all over then country. This is a good starting point. Now, what we need to know is whether they can grow on ropes. There has been some preliminary development along those lines, so we know that is possible. The other side is having a business team who are capable of taking this forward, not just in its beginnings but for the long haul. If this works, it will work to a very large scale and therefore people have got to be prepared for that. There are plenty of places where there could be hick ups and the thing will stop. But our job is to identify those and identify how to overcome that. So, I think the focus is on the business team at the moment and on what we can do to look at the market opportunities and develop a structure that is conducive to the particular conditions in the Falklands.
SF: Stuart or Dick, you are part of the Mussel Development Group. Will you be providing the funding behind this project?
SW: In all probability, it will be commercial money from the Falklands business community, depending on the scale of things and the way we decide to approach it. Personally, I would like to see, if it is of a scale we can afford, I would like to see us do it ourselves. But there are other ways of approaching it Ė joint ventures, for example or outside commercial money Ė and that might happen. My preference is to try and raise the cash within our local business community and develop our own industry.
DS: Itís the same way, really, that any business would find the funding for a new venture. You look at all the normal commercial sources Ė borrowing, own reserves, or, as Stuart says, maybe a joint venture.
SF: Who actually is part of the Mussel Development Group within the Islands?
DS: itís a fairly loose body, really, thereís no formal constitution. At the moment itís represented by Argos, Myself, Seaview, Fortuna, Seafish Falklands, Beauchene, Cheryl Roberts, Falklands Fresh, Simon Hardcastle. I think thatís about it.
SW: I think thereís been a couple of expressions of interest from people who want to join. Itís just a group of people who really work together to get things this far. Itís not exclusive. Anybody is welcome to come along any time we get together, really.
SF: And will you be looking towards any funding through FIDC?
SW: I donít know. It will depend on how much we can raise or, indeed, if we want to do that. Indeed, even, if we want to evolve following Crickís report. There is a long way to go yet to decide on whether we agree with his report, for example, if we do and we think the risk is worth taking, then we need to look around and see how we wish to finance it. That could include an approach to FIDC. Itís really very early to say if that is going to be the case.
SF: When you finish your report, Crick, who are you going to be giving it too? Will it be to Government or the Mussel Development Group?
CC: We are contracted by FIDC, who are the client. We understand that in reality the client is the Mussel Development Group. We have been instructed to conceptually approach this as a straight commercial venture. Our job is to provide the commercial case. We would be responding to the commercial powers. And, I think as Stuart has indicated, once the report has been taken onboard and the commercial powers have had a look at it, itís really up to them which doors they knock on for support of a technical nature, business nature or financial nature. And there are lots of suppliers that they could go to for that sort of support if itís appropriate.
DS: The other thing there as well is, I believe the report will be made available to anyone who wants to read it for a small fee from FIDC.
SF: After you leave the Islands, how long will it be before we see the report?
CC: We are expecting to complete our work in January next year. So, itís going to be pretty quick. Thereís a fair amount of work to do. Getting a sense of the conditions here is critical to the way we approach the thing. We then need to chase up on the actual bit of work, what other Mussel industries are doing and what Mussels are selling in the market, etc. There are so many different factors that have to be brought together and itís the magic of putting that together to come up with an analysis of a proposal that hardened businessmen can say it makes sense and they understand it as well as the figures, that they are well within a sense of risk. People take a risk in commerce and they expect to get rewarded for undertaking the risk. This is clear.
SF: Stuart, what do you hope to get out of this report when itís finished?
SW: I hope to get a much better understanding of the international Mussel industry and specifically, the figures of what the correct things it is possible for us to do in the Falklands. Personally, I want to see figures, which will allow me to assess the risk that might be involved in developing a major Mussle industry here in the Falkland Islands. I am interested to see what he has to say about the Mussel industry in the Falkland Islands but I will be focusing personally on the figures. Can we produce, process, market these Mussels and make a profit in the Falkland Islands?
DS: We are all hopeful of a report that says this is the best idea we have ever seen and please put your money on the table right now. The reality is that it is up to each business and individual to assess the report and decide whether or not they wish to get their feet wet.
SF: You talked about Mussels worldwide. From what you have seen so far in the Islands, how do you think their quality compares to the rest of the world?
CC: I think the species we have here in a market context is exactly the Blue Mussel thatís sold primarily in Europe. Europe is the main international market for these sort of products. The animal here grows very well. We have seen it at a large size, which suggests that it does very well. So, I would say itís comparable in every respect. At this point in time, we have eaten it Ė we tried it, weíve looked at it, we pulled it apart and we have no problems with it whatsoever.
SF: If the Mussel industry is actually achieved in the Falklands, who would be the client?
CC: Internationally, thereís a large Mussel eating community in Europe. Itís traditional fare in France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Scandinavian countries, they have always had these sorts of products as part of their diet and consumption pattern. And, then there are other parts of Europe where the consumption is broadening. I would say, the UK, for example, didnít consider Mussels as close as 10 years ago. But now days, you will find Mussels on most restaurant menus around the country. There are also opportunities in North America for these sort of things, where they were less traditional. But Europe would be the primary focus.
DS: If you put things in perspective, in Holland the consumption is 100,000 tonnes a year. Production in Northern Spain is at 250,000 tonnes. The consumption in the UK is about 40,000 tonnes. So, when you consider that in the Falklands, you might be looking at something around 6,000 tonne production now, itís a fairly small drop but for the Falklands it could be quite a large piece of business.
SF: How would you actually transport the Mussels to Europe so that they are still fresh and eatable? Would they be live?
CC: Clearly, the distance from market and the cost of transport precludes sending it live. You would have to fly them and thatís not under consideration. So, we are looking for a time frame. Youíve got pickles, which you can buy in the stores here. I donít think thatís a growing market internationally. The other one is to go to a frozen product or frozen convenience product. So, we are looking at things like frozen meat Ė thatís cooked Mussels Ė get the meat out and then freeze it and pack it. There are always ways we can do that. Those would go out by ship. I do think that the standard system of transport for seafood in this case is in refrigerated containers. In this we are looking at small quantities, not bulk transport. People in Europe would want so many containers per month or whatever. So we need a container bridge from here to the outside world. That would be a bit of a pre condition for the development of this industry.
SF: And, do you think this is something the Mussel Development Group could provide?
SW: There are a number of business people around Stanley now working on just that possibility. Thatís been going on for a number of months and various people are talking to ship brokers, looking at the possibility of chartering vessels or even buying vessels Ė a vessel Ė to run a container service from the Falklands. Itís not a simple matter and there is some way to go yet. People are very aware that for any economic development in the Falklands we need a container service.
DS: I totally agree with that. Itís not actually something that I think is the role of the Mussel Development Group. Itís something we have to consider but itís probably for other people to take advantage of that opportunity to provide it. Certainly, I think Crick is absolutely right. Without a containerised service from the Falklands, the project will be very difficult to get off the ground.
SF: What quantity of Mussels do you think we need to export per month to make this whole project feasible?
CC: We are still going through the calculations, to be fair, but we think several thousand tonnes in the first instance, to test all the lines, to be able to support expensive infrastructure. We are talking about a processing plant, cold storage, the shipping route and also being able to have some impact on the market. So, in the first instance, I say several thousand tonnes. Ideally, we would like to get off 5 or 6,000 tonnes fairly quickly. And, if we got that far, I really donít see any reason why it shouldnít go much, much higher than that. But that much higher involves a lot more money, a lot more organisation.
DS: Thatís tonnes per year, by the way
SF: You have been advertising for someone to come down and help with business development in the industry. Have you had any luck so far?
SW: We have a number of expressions of interest and some applications. At some point in the near future we will be sitting down to look at those and consider what our next step is.
SF: And the funding for this person who is coming, where is it coming from?
SW: The funding for the Mussel industry professional will come from a mix of sources from people in the industry but FIDC will be making a significant contribution to that.
DS: We probably will be using European development money, which has been set aside for acquacultural development in the Falkland Islands. To all the tax payers out there, itís not all your money that we are spending.
SF: Is there anything any of you would like to add?
SW: I am really looking forward to receiving Crickís report and I think it could be the very exciting start of a major industry in the Falkland Islands.
DS: Also, itís good to see something that is industry lead. With the assistance of FIDC, which is greatly appreciated, we need to realise it is something that has been kicked off by the industry.
SF: Thank you very much for coming in and talking to me.
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