Meet the Northern Ireland Women in Seafood

Northern Ireland has a varied seafood industry often seen as male-dominated, but women play a key role through a range of jobs.

Many women are involved in the seafood industry in Northern Ireland They all have interesting backgrounds and motivations. We look at the important role they play within the industry and their individual stories 

Tracy Brennan – Quality/Technical Manager, Rooney Fish

Tracy Brennan at work

Tracy is Quality Manager at shellfish specialists Rooney Fish in KilkeelBeing a delicate and highly perishable raw material, the shellfish sector presents numerous unique challenges—so why remain in such a role? 

The food industry continues to develop food safety and quality. Tracy gained extensive experience in the wider food industry but enjoys the challenges of shellfish and aquaculture. 

She constantly adapts her skills and approach with changes in legislation, industry standards, customer behaviour, and relevant trends.   

Irish shellfish producers are among the most environmentally informed and innovative, becoming the envy of the global seafood industry. Tracy hopes to remain part of such a varied industry for a few more years to come! 

Halime Sabrieva - General Operative, Rooney Fish

Halime Sabrieva on the factory floor

Halime has worked at Rooney Fish since 2015. Versatility and variation are key parts in her role, supporting the preparation, grading, and packing of raw and cooked frozen shellfish for domestic retail and export markets within the factory.

With the production plant relying on teamwork, Halime’s commitment and reliability are considered fundamental to the success of the production team.

Juanita Emerson and Susanne Young – Sea Fish Industry Training Association

Juanita (right) and Susanne (left) work for the Sea Fish Industry Training Association Northern Ireland (SFITA-NI).

Juanita joined the association as Training Co-ordinator in 2015, after 19 years of working in the civil service.

She comes from Portavogie, where her grandfather was Harbour Master. She worked for George S. Cully and Son selling fish in St George’s Market throughout her school summer holidays. Juanita describes her role as “coming home”.  

SFITA-NI is a not-for-profit enterprise set up to provide fishing industry safety training, designed by fishermen for fishermen.

Juanita had no previous experience, other than family links to the fishing industry. It has been a steep but interesting learning curve. She engages directly with fishermen in Northern Ireland, working with industry members, and promoting the importance of safety training. Seeing fishermen engage in new processes and projects related to safety is very rewarding.

Susanne (left) is a part-time clerical officer, supporting the Training Co-ordinator and the running of the organisation. 

The fishing community of Portavogie is close to Susanne’s heart. She is the second eldest daughter of a retired Portavogie fisherman. She has seen the changes in the industry, from the 1980s bustling herring trawling fleet to the prawn fleet of today.

She has seen tragedies and loss of life that still haunt her and the wider community. Working for an organisation focussed on improving fishing safety is therefore a cause she is passionate about.

Susanne had spent most of her career at BMI British Midland, in roles ranging from Customer Service Agent, Ticket Agent to Dispatch. Annual mandatory training at BMI means she appreciates regular training and keeps important issues at the forefront of her mind. This is crucial in her current role.

Pauline Kerr – S & P Milligan

Pauline Kerr at work

Pauline did not grow up in a fishing family. She has lived all her life in the Markets area of Belfast beside St. George’s Market where she now works for well-known Ardglass fish company, S & P Milligan.

She got into the business of fish selling when she was helping a friend at the market. She has now worked for S & P Milligan since 2010.

Pauline loves the hustle and bustle of the market, the people who come to buy their seafood from her every week and she has enjoyed learning all about seafood “on the job”.

Rosemary Johnston – Technical Manager, Kilkeel Seafoods

Rosemary Johnston at work

Rosemary has worked her way up from Quality Assistant at Middleton Seafoods through to her current role as Technical Manager at Kilkeel Seafoods. 

She has overcome many challenges and gained vast, valuable experience that she brings to her role. Seafood industries are often dominated by men, particularly in leadership rolesA woman moving into such roles while also raising a family was a rare situation, but one that Rosemary embraced. 

Kilkeel Seafoods has provided Rosemary with a deeply rewarding and ever-changing experience. The company has a state-of-the-art processing site, combining mechanisation and manual workforce of both male and female employees from teenagers to those of a later age. 

Rosemary is proud of the quality and process standards within Kilkeel Seafoods, which are second to none, and of the team who show dedication to continued business growth and sustainability. 

The Connor Sisters - Off-Shell Process Operators, Kilkeel Seafoods

Sisters Lorraine Corbett, Heather Connor, and Diane Morgan at work

Joining straight from school at age 16, the Connor sisters spent ten years together at Kilhorne Bay Seafoods in Annalong, manually processing prawns, clams, and herring.

Ten years passed and as the prawn shelling process evolved, so did the siblings. They transferred to Middleton Seafoods in Kilkeel, where prawn shelling was done using water jets. This was followed by the introduction of new “off-shell” machines.

A Whitby Seafoods takeover, a rename to Kilkeel Seafoods, and relocation to a purpose-built factory in 2015 and the sisters continue to adapt and work together.

A combined 91 years of co-working is not without its challenges. In the early days for Lorraine and Diane statutory maternity leave was only six weeks.  Without the helping hand of their mother they would not have been able to work as she looked after their children.

Lorraine, Heather and Diane enjoy their work and the friendships they have made and remain enthusiastic about the industry.

Geraldine Quinn – Supervisor Assistant, Kilkeel Seafoods

Geraldine Quinn at work

Since leaving school at 16, Geraldine has amassed a total of 43 years plying her trade in Northern Ireland’s fishing industry.

She started with the Kilkeel Fishing Company, where she hand-shelled prawns. Her employer was then bought out by Middleton Seafoods, and Geraldine continued to hand-shell prawns.

After the purchase and relocation of the processing plant by Whitby Seafoods to form Kilkeel Seafoods, Geraldine became Supervisor Assistant of an Off-Shell Machine at the new purpose-built factory. 

Geraldine says: “I have good work colleagues and friends, hours which suit, I grew up in the place - it has been my life”.

Ingrid Perry and Lesley Hammond – The Fishermen’s Mission

Ingrid Perry and Lesley Hammond on the quayside

The Fishermen’s Mission provides emergency support alongside practical, financial, spiritual and emotional care to all active or retired fishermen and their families. 

Ingrid joined The Mission in 2014 following 15 years as a freelance newspaper photographer, and soon rose from volunteer to Centres Manager for Northern Ireland. 

She used her previous experience volunteering in community health programmes and pastoral care projects for a variety of Christian organisations. Ingrid sees her work at The Mission as a calling, promoting the welfare and safety of fishermen, whether migrant, local or retired. 

Offering help and support to others is important to Lesley. She worked for 11 years as an Asda Community Life Champion while also volunteering with her local church.  

She started volunteering with The Mission in 2013 through the Community Life Champion programme. She saw the need for welfare within the fishing community. 

Lesley joined The Mission as Centres Manager before becoming the Mission Area Officer, based at Kilkeel harbour.  

Both Ingrid and Lesley recognise delivering fishermen’s welfare programmes as both challenging and rewarding, and feel their work is a true calling.  

The Northern Ireland Women in Fisheries – Betty Armstrong, Sheila Maginnis, Marlene Hadden, Elaine Campbell, and Lou Henning

Betty Armstrong, Sheila Maginnis, Marlene Hadden, Elaine Campbell, and Lou Henning

Northern Ireland Women in Fisheries (NIWIF) are a group of ladies who live and work in the fishing communities.

Many are also the wives of men who work in the industry as fishermen, seafood processors and marine engineers.  

The group have developed seafood cookery demonstrations which they deliver at women’s groups and other clubs and societies. 

The demonstrations aim to educate consumers on choosing good quality, responsibly sourced, sustainable seafood, with a focus on locally caught fish. 

They also show people how easy it is to prepare and cook seafood and tell people about the health benefits of including fish in the diet. 

Since 2013, more than 90 seafood cookery events have been delivered to over 3000 people from across Northern Ireland. The women are true ambassadors for the Northern Ireland fishing industry and coastal communities. 

Grainne Lavery – Front of House Manager, Fish City

Grainne at work 

Grainne’s career started in New York where she worked in marketing for over seven years.  

Family commitments saw her return home to Northern Ireland where she ended up in the fish and chip retail sector. Now Front of House Manager with Fish Cityshe has been heading up the team in Belfast for nearly two years.  

Embracing a sustainable approach to sourcing, she is on a mission to encourage customers to eat more seafood. She enjoys working with the team to create a tasty and healthy menu.  

When not working front of house, her passion is the Fish City Kids Club - a free resource for primary school children to encourage them to eat more seafood, learn about different species, the health benefits and the importance of protecting our oceans. 

Grainne was responsible for the restaurant’s maritime theme of bespoke wooden fish sculptures and artwork. This all drawthe customers’ attention to the origins and history of the food and is a genuine reflection of Grainne’s passion for the seafood industry. 

Betty Beck - Ewing’s Fishmongers

Betty Beck at work 

Betty has devoted her working life to the seafood industry. 

From spending afternoons after school helping her mother, who managed one of Ewing's five fish shops, to joining the business straight after finishing school. 

Betty has witnessed a changing fishing industry in Northern Ireland The change has always seen families continue traditions as generations join the ranks. Betty’s son Samuel continued the family tradition and joined the Ewing’s team as a trainee straight from school. 

Donna Freeman – Ewing’s Fishmongers

Donna Freeman at work in the fishmongers

Over 20 years ago Donna joined Ewing’s Seafoods after finishing school.

Donna took a break to have a family, returning to Ewing’s to manage their growing smoked salmon business, which is a favourite among Northern Ireland’s Michelin starred chefs.

She says it’s great to work with people with such a passion for fresh fish.

Emma Lindsay – DAERA Fisheries Officer

Emma Lindsay on the quayside

Emma works in the Aquaculture and Fish Health section of the Marine and Fisheries Division in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). 

She joined DAERA in 2011 and inspects Northern Ireland fish imports and exports, ensuring health standards are met and certified.  

Emma authorises and monitors all fish movements to and from aquaculture businesses. She also annually inspects all Northern Irish finfish farms and aquaculture production businesses to ensure fish are healthy and comply with licence conditions.  

She also electro-fishes rivers to check for fish disease levels in the wild. 

Emma finds reward in supporting the Northern Ireland fishing community, by making trading easier, and helping to maintain the country’s high fish health status.  

She enjoys the variety of tasks and the chance to work across and outside Northern Ireland. 

Jenna Rees and Annabel Cowden – Neptune’s Larder

Jenna Rees and Annabel Cowden in the café

Jenna runs Neptune’s Larder, a café opened by her in 2010 and located in Kilkeel Harbour. 

The café serves the fishermen, factory workers, engineers and others whose working lives are spent at the harbour. 

Jenna is the daughter of Jim Hill, a well-known retired fisherman from AnnalongHe is passionate about the local fishing industry and makes a delicious pickled herring from fish landed by the seasonal Mourne Shore herring fishery which opens most years in September. Jim also makes scallop dredges for local boats. 

Jenna is helped by Annabel Cowden whose family have fishing connections. Her father Andrew runs Automar, marine diesel engine specialists based in Kilkeel. 

The café serves a great selection of local seafood, buns, scones and the popular Ulster Fry to its hungry and appreciative customers. 


Northern Ireland Fishermen’s Safety Forum Roadshow delivery team

L to R: Susanne Young and Juanita Emerson (SFITA), Helen Dent and Jodie Devereux (RNLI), and Dr Lynn Gilmore (Seafish)

The Northern Ireland Fishermen’s Safety Forum (NIFSF) was founded in 2017. Its purpose is to bring industry together to make fishing safer.  

Part of that work has included a series of six fishing safety roadshow events which were delivered to 130 fishermen around the coast of Northern Ireland throughout 2017 and 2018. 

Established by fishermen for fishermen, the group receives support from various organisations with a remit for safety, including: 

  • Seafish 
  • Marine Coastguard Agency (MCA) 
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) 
  • Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) 
  • Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) 
  • The Fishermen’s Mission 
  • The Northern Ireland Fisheries Harbour Authority  
  • Local fishermen’s training providers.  

Each fishing organisation (fish producer’s organisations and fishermen’s cooperatives) in Northern Ireland also supports the group and representatives attend meetings.