Marine Harvest, the world’s leading seafood company and largest producer of farmed salmon, announced its best year so far, when 2013 fourth quarter results were published on 5 February.
“We achieved all time high revenues and annual operating profit,” said CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog.
The Marine Harvest Group, with salmon farms in Norway, Chile, Canada, Scotland, Ireland and the Faeroes, harvested a gutted weight total of 343,772 metric tons (MT) in 2013. Its 46 Scottish farms accounted for 14 percent of total production, and are an important contributor to the group.
Plans are now underway to increase production in Scotland to meet growing demand, and to move to more exposed sites. The expansion is costing GBP 80 million (USD 120.2 million, EUR 94 million), and includes a state of the art hatchery on the West coast. This is one of the largest and most technically advanced of its kind in the world.
Opened in June 2013 by Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond MSP, the hatchery uses Danish recirculating technology, and cost GBP 16 million (USD 24 million, EUR 18.8 million) to build.
Its first batches of eggs are now almost ready to go to sea, and hatchery manager Allan MacDonald reflected on the key part the new unit is playing in the company’s expansion plans.
“We wanted to take smolt production in house to control and guarantee the quality of the fish. This in turn minimizes issues when they are put to sea, and gives the sea site managers a good strong fish to ongrow,” he explained.
“At the end of the day we need a high quality product for the consumer and all our processes work towards this. We operate to Freedom Food standards and are also undergoing audit against the new ASC standard for salmon farming, and this helps to give our customers confidence in the product.”
Biosecurity and water quality are two key aspects of control at the hatchery, which operates separate, isolated incubation, fry, parr and smolt areas. Staff enters each through sealed doors and disinfectant footbaths, and hand sanitizing is mandatory, with standards similar to those used in food processing units.
Eggs are bought in from Norwegian company Aquagen, and are hatched in one of four incubation units, where they remain until ready for first feeding. Temperature control in this area enables staff to regulate the rate at which hatching takes place so that all batches are ready at the same time.
In the fry unit, fish are nurtured on crumb feed, in large tanks with crystal clear water, thanks to the advanced recirculating technology used at the hatchery. “Each pass of water is double cleaned, mechanically and biologically filtered, degassed and treated with ozone, to ensure there are no issues with pathogens. Each phase is computer controlled and monitored, and we are able to react quickly if problems arise,” explained MacDonald.
“In addition, each tank has its own oxygen injector to maintain optimum levels for the fish, and advanced systems to remove any mortalities. To date these have remained at background levels, so we are very pleased with the results.”
Fish are moved into the parr unit some 6 weeks later and into the smolt unit when they reach 3g in weight. Once ready to be put to sea, they are moved in specialized tanks to wellboats in nearby Mallaig, ready for transfer to sea pens.
All tanks in the hatchery are fitted with auto feeders, but fish are also hand fed a small amount four times a day, to enable staff to measure their response. “This allows us to fine tune the rate of feeding and also gives us time to watch their behavior and to spot anything untoward,” said MacDonald.
“It has been a tough year bedding in all the systems, there has been a tremendous amount to learn, and a lot of training to put staff through, but we are on track to grow a successful business here and it is one that will help to grow the reputation of Marine Harvest Scotland.”
According to Allan Sutherland, Marine Harvest Scotland managing director, demand for Scottish farmed salmon is continuing to grow. It is now worth more than GBP 600 million (USD 901.6 million, EUR 705.4 million) a year, and is the country’s top food export. This product has held the French government's top quality award, Label Rouge, for 21 years and was the first non-French food to receive this accolade. Scottish farmed salmon has also been awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which means it cannot be imitated.
The U.S. is the largest export market for Scottish farmed salmon, followed by France, with growing volumes heading to emerging markets such as the Far East and Middle East. Last year, it was exported to more than 60 countries around the world.