Five new jobs are to be created as part of a major investment at Europe's largest wild eel fishery.

The £400,000 boost for the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-operative Society is being spent on a manufacturing facility to develop high-end products for export.

Pat Close, chairman of the society, said: "We have established a new processing facility for the preparation and vacuum-packing of the eels for sale in Northern Ireland, Britain and other parts of Europe, where they've been popular with restaurants and with 'foodies' for over 40 years."

The new posts include a product development/marketing manager (already in place) as well as production operatives.

The not-for-profit co-operative society was formed in 1965 and regularly ships live eels to customers in London's Billingsgate Market, the Netherlands and northern Germany for processing as smoked eel products.

At present, 16 people are employed at its base in Toome, Co Antrim.

Lough Neagh eels were awarded European Union protected name status in September 2011 - a first for any Northern Ireland food product - putting the delicacy in the same league as Champagne and Parma ham.

Invest Northern Ireland and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development have contributed £121,380.

John Hood, Invest Northern Ireland's food and tourism director, said: "This investment by the co-operative focuses on adding value at Toome and the development of quality products aimed in particular at export markets.

"This investment, as the start of a process, will also result in the development of a distinctive Northern Irish brand as well as other added-value products for export."