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John Rooney: Entrepreneur revolutionised seafood sector and put local oysters on map

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John Rooney, founder of Rooney Fish, has died at 68

John Rooney, founder of Rooney Fish, has died at 68

John Rooney, founder of Rooney Fish, has died at 68

One of Northern Ireland's leading and most successful seafood business leaders has died.

John Rooney, the founder and managing director of Rooney Fish, passed way aged 68 on March 4 after a long illness.

Mr Rooney was widely respected for his contribution to the Irish seafood industry.

He was also known for his entrepreneurial achievements in developing Rooney Fish into one of most successful local exporters of seafood.

Rooney Fish's multiple award-winning Millbay Oysters were named the best in Ireland at the Blas na hEireann Awards in 2018, and were highly praised in the UK Great Taste Awards the year before.

Mr Rooney was born in Dublin and subsequently moved to Rochdale with his parents.

He lived there for 10 years before coming to Kilkeel for a two-week holiday with his grandparents, who then decided to enrol him in the local primary school.

John met Rosemary, who became his wife, in Kilkeel in 1970. They were married two years later. They had two children, Andrew and Johanne, and were happily married for close to 50 years.

His start in fishing was the outcome of an experience delivering fish from Kilkeel to Wexford in response to a request from friends. This led John and Rosemary to explore other opportunities in fishing and then to set up a small entrepreneurial business in 1975 to fillet and smoke fish and pack whole prawns for Europe.

The business, under his leadership, developed into the biggest and most modern fish processing plant on the island of Ireland, employing more than 70 people in Kilkeel.

It processes a wide range of seafood, especially langoustines, scallops, crab, lobster and oysters.

The venture proved highly successful and led to the acquisition of larger premises to meet the growing demand for products and expertise.

The business expanded to become one of the largest and also one of the best equipped and technologically advanced fish processing plants serving European markets, turning over more than £6m annually.

John's son, Andrew, joined him in the business to help develop international sales.

Today Rooney Fish sells a wide range of fish and seafood to markets such as China, Japan, the Middle East and parts of Europe, including France, Italy and Spain.

Among the company's more recent high-profile activities was the launch in 2014 of Millbay Oysters from what has become the island of Ireland's biggest Pacific oyster Farm, located on Carlingford Lough.

Mr Rooney was a forthright advocate for the fish and seafood industry and Kilkeel Harbour and was involved in many initiatives, including dealing with Government on behalf of the industry.

Among the many positions he held were vice-chairman of Manufacturing Northern Ireland and vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust.

In the Federation of Small Businesses, Mr Rooney served as branch chair, treasurer for the Northern Ireland policy unit and was a member of the regional committee.

He was also a member of Sea Flag from 2012 and a member of Food Northern Ireland.

Mr Rooney also over a number of years attended Stormont and Westminster to represent the fishing industry in Northern Ireland.

Mr Rooney was a man who made his mark in growing the global reputation of local seafood. He is survived by Rosemary, Andrew and Johanne and their children.

Belfast Telegraph