Award-winning Irish smoke house: “We haven’t been able to buy any salmon since December”

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West Cork smoke house has struggled with supply following Mowi losses in Ireland. 

Ummera Smokehouse has been processing salmon in West Cork for nearly 50 years, since Managing Director Anthony Creswell’s father moved the family from Essex to Cork to set up a chicken farm.

“We were living in Essex, and my father came over to Ireland to set up an Anglo-American chicken franchising operation in the early 1960s.”

“He was a keen fisherman and was catching salmon on the rivers locally, and started smoking really just for curiosity, and for fun, and it sort of grew from there.”

“I got kicked out from home as a teenager, I was told to go and find myself a job within the week or he would put me in the army, and in those days you did what you were told. As a result I spent the next 18 years in the wine business around the world before returning home.”

Custom built smokehouse
When then-Finance Minister Charles Haughey “upped the duty on wine and doubled it overnight,” Anthony closed his shop and decided to help his dad for a while.

In May 1998, Creswell took over the running of the company from his father. The smoking was transferred in October 2000 to a new custom built smokehouse, one mile upstream of its original location on the River Argideen.

“We were smoking wild salmon until about 2004,” explains the softly spoken Creswell, “when the stocks of wild salmon were dropping, and we felt it was in the interest of saving the wild salmon not to carry on buying.”

“So that’s really when we moved over to smoking organic salmon. Whilst we smoke the odd wild salmon if a fisherman catches one on the river, commercially we won’t.”

Global trade
Ummera supplies shops and hospitality as well as catering to individual customers, shipping to buyers all over the world, “to Germany, France, Japan and America says Creswell, who says that demand has ‘held up very well’ despite the uncertainties of the pandemic.

“We’re a small operator. And because of that, we concentrate on quality rather than quantity. So we’re trying to produce the best we can. And we just hope most of our customers are similarly concerned about the quality. And they’re not particularly concerned about the price.”

“We use organic salmon. So we’re obviously paying a premium because of that. We buy it from Mowi; they have about seven or eight organic salmon farms up and down the west coast, from West Cork all the way up to Donegal.”

Supply issues
“We’ll probably smoke a pallet once a fortnight, it depends very much on the time of year. At the moment we haven’t been able to buy any salmon since December because there’s been none available. I think they get hit by weather conditions – the water temperature is colder or warmer than it should be and that tends to have an effect on the ability to supply.”

In October, Mowi confirmed it suffered a sizeable die-off at its Ireland operations, the result of a plankton bloom that hit its farming sites in Bantry Bay in late October. Local media reported that as many as 80,000 salmon worth a total of €2.4 million were killed as a result of the incident.

Creswell, however, remains, sanguine. “Supply is normally pretty good. But we do have an issue every now and then.”