Scottish salmon farmer’s staff, investments maintain high fish survival rate

Published on
January 13, 2021

Stirling, United Kingdom-headquartered Scottish Sea Farms achieved an annual fish survival rate of 92 percent across its 42 marine farms last year, despite challenges brought by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, new figures have confirmed. 

The strong biological performance over the past 12 months took the salmon farmer’s average annual survival rate for the last five-year period to 91 percent.

Scottish Sea Farms Managing Director Jim Gallagher said 2020 had been “a tough year by anyone’s standards” with the arrival of COVID-19, but particularly so for livestock farmers with animals to be fed and tended to 365 days of the year. 

“Thanks to the diligence of our farming teams, the many specialist roles working alongside them and the phenomenal amount of time, energy and focus given collectively to ensuring the best growing conditions, we have successfully safeguarded fish welfare throughout the ongoing disruption and continued to play our part in keeping supplies of highly nutritious, home-grown food flowing,” he said.

Gallagher also pointed out that the company’s long-term strategic investment program had been integral to last year’s high survival rates.

“We’re working hard every single day to make the best decisions for our fish: adding to our capacity and competence; investing our money where it’s needed the most; and, crucially, monitoring the results to ensure these investments are delivering the anticipated difference or whether we need to hone our approaches further," he said.

Its investments in 2020 included GBP 1 million (USD 1.4 million, EUR 1.1 million) in the creation of 30 new roles across the company; GBP 1.9 million (USD 2.6 million, EUR 2.1 million) in new service vessel, “Fair Isle,” to support the company’s Northern Isles farms and free up existing vessel, “Sally Anne,” for the mainland region; a GBP 2.3 million (USD 3.1 million, EUR 2.6 million) hydrolicer and support vessel, “Helen Mary,” to help ensure timely control of sea lice without the use of medicines; and a GBP 3.2 million (USD 4.3 million, EUR 3.5 million) new farm at Hunda, Orkney, together with a hybrid barge and two dedicated workboats.

These were in addition to a series of upgrades to existing farm infrastructure including feed barges, remote feeding systems, predator control netting and environmental monitoring, as well as applied research into the key areas of gill health and the effects of plankton.

“It’s hugely reassuring to see our hard work and ongoing investment deliver 92 percent average survival among a species thought to have a survival rate of just five per cent or less in the wild,” Scottish Sea Farms Head of Fish Health Ralph Bickerdike said. “That said, there’s much work still to be done with regards to understanding and pre-empting the challenges of a changing marine environment – we now know to expect the unexpected.”

One of the company’s primary areas of focus is phytoplankton blooms, which are attributed to climate change and can complicate the functioning of fish gills, oftentimes with fatal consequences.

In November 2020, a plankton event contributed to a drop in survival rates at Scottish Sea Farms’ Lismore East farm in Loch Linnhe, from 92 percent pre-event to 63 percent after the event. This compares to survival rates of 89 percent and 95 percent for the same farm’s previous two crops, respectively.

“These environmental changes and challenges, whilst isolated, can be devastating to fish stocks and to the farmers who care for them. The more we can learn about what causes them and why, the better able we will be to identify how best to pre-empt and avoid them,” Bickerdike said.

Scottish Sea Farms scored a separate breakthrough in December 2020, when it harvested fish ongrown from the first smolts reared at its state-of-the-art recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) hatchery at Barcaldine, on the west coast of Scotland.

Scottish Sea Farms has been striving to improve fish welfare and increase survival rates throughout the salmon lifecycle, and the latest results mark a significant milestone for the company, Scottish Sea Farms Freshwater Manager Pål Tangvik told SeafoodSource. 

Photo courtesy of Scottish Sea Farms

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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