In 2018, Bord Iascaigh Mhara reported that Irish Seafood GDP grew by 3.4% to an estimated €1.25 billion. BIM reported total seafood sector employment of 14,359 for 2018. While the value of our seafood exports declined 4% in 2018, the overall trend over the past decade has been one of strong growth.
There are a number of opportunities and threats to our seafood sector in the coming years. The potential impacts of Brexit remain a concern and my Department and its agencies, and indeed other State bodies such as Enterprise Ireland and Údarás na Gaeltachta, have been working closely with stakeholders in planning for all scenarios. There are also very many reasons to be positive about the future of the sector. Demand on international markets is such that there are valuable business opportunities for quality Irish seafood. My Department and its agencies are pursuing a number of strategies to assist our seafood enterprises in realising those opportunities, including Food Wise 2025, the National Strategic Plan for Sustainable Aquaculture Development and the recently published Strategy for the Inshore Fisheries Sector.
These strategies are being supported through my Department's €240 million European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) Operational Programme, which is the vehicle for financial supports to our seafood sector for the period 2014 to 2020. The Programme delivers a wide range of supports for aquaculture, fisheries and seafood processing through a suite of 18 schemes. The Programme is co-funded by the Government of Ireland and the European Union. Some €41 million in financial supports were invested in the sector in 2018, leveraging significant private investment by seafood processors in value-adding and investments in increased productivity by aquaculture enterprises. The catching sector also continues to invest strongly in equipment on-board to add value to catch, improve quality, enhance safety and hygiene and embrace energy efficiency.
I look forward to seeing our seafood sector continue to grow and provide essential employment growth in peripheral coastal communities in the year ahead.