Caption: Kilkeel-based Seasource, the fishing and fish processing to marine and offshore services group is led by Davey Hill (left) and Alan McCulla (right)

A London-based international fishing company has announced its intention to invest in Kilkeel Harbour and base six of its vessels in the County Down port.

Hooktone Group which is owned by the Hermida family and operates in ports around the world, manages a fleet of some 20 vessels and has now become a member of the Kilkeel based Seasource, also known as the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (ANIFPO). 

The firm says Kilkeel is ideally positioned on the western flanks of the Irish Sea to grow its north European business sustainably. If plans for a state-of-the-art outer harbour are realised in the next few years, both the company and Sea-Source say Kilkeel will be a major north European marine hub employing up to 2,000 people.

Speaking on behalf of the company Maria Hermida says the partnership with Seasource is a strategic move for the firm and part of a growth strategy she has been working towards for some years.

Hooktone Group has been operating from various ports in England and Scotland as well as internationally for three decades and we have watched Kilkeel and Seasource develop their plans and grow the business sustainably and in the long term, says Ms Hermida.

We are keen to work with Sea-Source because we share the same objectives. Also, our boats are geared for different species of fish so we will be bringing additional benefits including increased quotas to the port as well as new experience and knowledge adding to Kilkeels wealth of expertise.

Alan McCulla, chief executive of Seasource, says the partnership represents a significant expression of confidence in Kilkeel Harbour and its potential for significant growth.

We are delighted to welcome Hooktone Group to our collective. The firms investment in the port shows that success engenders success and we are particularly pleased to have attracted the group here particularly when they could have chosen any number of other UK ports.

The decision to make Kilkeel one of their strategic bases is further proof that the fishing industry when sustainably and responsibility managed is potentially a substantial employer and generator of significant economic growth.

Hooktone Group brings a wealth of experience and skills which we are keen to learn from.

Kilkeel has maintained its position as one of the top UK ports, attracting some of the largest landings of langoustines in the country. Growth in hake,monkfish, megrim and ling landings is expected when Hooktone Group begin consigning some of their landings there later this year.

Mr McCulla says the investment by Hooktone group is a signal that post-Brexit Northern Ireland is already starting to define itself positively and that more partnerships with international groups can be expected.

Plans for the £35 million outer harbour which would provide 21st century facilities to develop the fishing and offshore marine services sectors, as well as a leisure sailing marina are currently being promoted by Kilkeel Strategic Partnership as a key economic infrastructure development which would enhance the growth of neighbouring maritime communities Ardglass and Annalong as well as Warrenpoint. Davey Hill who leads Seasource Offshore says the expansion is critical to the survival and success of the port. “Kilkeel Harbour has been operational since 1853. For us to continue creating jobs and developing the marine economy, we quite simply need a modern, larger port from which to operate.”