Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: Kilkeel exporter sees sales plummet 'overnight'

A worker processing shellfish

A County Down food processor that sells into China and the EU has seen sales shut down overnight due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rooney Fish in Kilkeel employs 67 people and exports crabs, lobsters, oysters and other shellfish.

The family business's key markets are China, Hong Kong, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand and the EU.

Its managing director Andrew Rooney said: "Now I've the stock sitting here that I can't sell."

"I had plans in place for Korea but they said: 'No, sorry, we're now taking it.'

"My sales had shot down and that was literally overnight."

Image caption Andrew Rooney says the loss of orders means it is becoming "very, very tight" for his business

Many of Mr Rooney's customers in places like Shanghai are in lockdown, which means the streets are empty and nobody is going to restaurants.

He says a drop in tourists travelling to the EU from Asia means demand has also fallen in places like Italy and France.

The company exports between 600 tonnes and 800 tonnes of product a year to China and about 500 tonnes and 600 tonnes to the EU.

Some products can be frozen but others, like oysters, cannot.

Andrew said he has weekly orders of between four tonnes and 10 tonnes of oysters to France that have stopped and two tonnes a week to China that have stopped.

Image caption Kilkeel-based Rooney Fish exports to markets in Asia and the EU

He said it was becoming "very, very tight" for his business.

He said: "The problem is when the product is landed from the fishing boats, the fishing boats are paid."

"The auctioneers are paid, seafish levies are paid and it's sitting in my cold store.

"I've 67 staff here that I still have to keep on a weekly wage.

"The workers need paid, the boats need paid, fishermen and electricity bills need paid."

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