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First oyster harvest pays off for Northern Irish group

The seafood processor entered the farming business three years ago.

Northern Ireland seafood processor Rooney Fish is in its first harvesting year since the start of its Mill Bay Pacific Oysters farming business in 2014 and has already listed its target market as one of its distribution channels.

The company signed an important supply contract with an undisclosed Hong Kong distributor that will sell 25 percent of Mill Bay oysters to high-end consumers in hotels and restaurants.

So far this year, the company has produced 40 metric tons of its premium oyster -- with more than 16 percent meat yield -- and is exporting the shellfish live to France and Hong Kong.

Rooney Fish is a large seafood processor in Northern Ireland that has operations at sea, with its own trawler for crab fishing, and larger frozen-at-sea (FAS) boats mainly fishing for langoustine through its Millbay Fishing Company.

It has offices in France, Spain and Italy, and operates a processing plant with extensive freezing storage capacity.

The oyster farm covers 18 acres, and it also sources shellfish from local fishing fleet for its processing business.

In 2016, the group had sales of around €15 million ($17.6 million), Andrew Rooney, managing director at the Rooney Fish, told IntraFish.

In 2014, Rooney decided to diversify its product portfolio and entered the oyster market due to the demand of the product and the predictability of the harvests.

“I wanted to farm something that we can have control over, and although you can’t fully control the production of oysters, you know what you stock and what you will have after the farming process,” Rooney told IntraFish.

The company plans to farm 120 metric tons of oysters this year, and 300 metric tons a year in the future.

“We are planning to expand and build a new farming site, but it depends on the authorities,” Rooney said.

To farm the mollusk, Rooney imports seed from different hatcheries in France and grows it for three years until harvesting weight.

“It’s a bit slow, but it’s a high-end product and we are the only ones in Northern Ireland with depuration and purification systems that allow us to do it all year 'round, even in summer,” Rooney said.

The company also has the right equipment and machinery, including a linear and a circular grader to produce oysters at high levels throughout the process.

With the Hong Kong contract -- the first one for its oyster in China and the first one for the company outside mainland China -- Roomey expects to reach its key consumer and to establish the business.

“I always thought Hong Kong would be the ideal market for our oysters, it’s a high-end market, and although it’ll import now 25 percent of our production, I expect this to increase over the years,” Rooney said.

The product is shipped via Dubai, and is delivered to Hong Kong within 24 hours after leaving Northern Ireland.

The idea is to start harvesting different sizes of oysters in the coming years.

“Now we only have one harvest a year, but as we develop on we will start to have different sizes, to see different growing patterns and end up having oysters throughout the year.”


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