Scottish Sea Farms begins capitalizing on RAS hatchery

Scottish Sea Farms has just 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.

The fish were transferred a year ago from the GBP 58 million (USD 77.8 million, EUR 64.3 million) freshwater facility, to one of the company’s salmon farms in a local sea loch for on-growing.

The smolts were put to sea with an average weight of 178 grams, which is more than double the usual weight on transfer, with fish raised in a conventional hatchery, followed by a period in a freshwater loch or flow-through tank system.

“We’re delighted with both the performance and quality of the fish, which have been delivered to customers around the world. As we predicted, the smolts raised in the controlled environment of the hatchery required a full two months’ less time at sea to reach harvest size and were able to better withstand the natural challenges of the marine environment,” Scottish Sea Farms Freshwater Manager Pål Tangvik said.

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. Tangvik said the hatchery provides 24/7 control over key growth factors such as water quality, oxygen levels, temperature, light, and speed of flow. 

“This creates a more stable environment compared to conventional flow-through hatcheries. We also designed it to keep each generation of fish completely separate and bio-secure,” Tangvik said.

The Barcaldine hatchery has an annual production capacity of 10 million smolts, and its location on the shore of a sea loch means that young fish can be transferred straight into a wellboat via a pipeline. This reduces stress on the first stage of their journey to one of Scottish Sea Farms’ 42 marine farms.

“To have played a part in bringing Barcaldine Hatchery into being is one of the single most exciting things I have done in my career,” Tangvik said.

Alongside the technical issues involved in getting the ambitious project up and running, he had to create a team from scratch, but with RAS still a relatively new concept, experienced personnel were hard to come by.

“RAS farming is a specialization within a specialization, meaning there’s not a great many people who come with a ready-made skillset. Our approach has been to bring together people with complementary skills and knowledge – freshwater, marine, engineering, quality – and equip them with on-the-job training in the specifics of the hatchery itself, and the wider discipline of RAS farming,” he said. “The result is a really impressive and cohesive team, whose passion and willingness to succeed means everything to us.”

Under Tangvik’s guidance, the company’s former freshwater health and welfare manager, Noelia Rodrigue, progressed to RAS hatcheries operations manager, and within a year had won a major award for her work, being named “finfish farmer of the year” at the UK Aquaculture Awards 2020. Similarly, the company has recently appointed Carlota Castañeda-Cobo to the newly created role of deputy operations manager.

Scottish Sea Farms Managing Director Jim Gallagher praised the company’s talented fish husbandry and technical teams and stressed its overriding commitment to responsible and sustainable food production.

“When it came to transforming our freshwater farming, it seemed only natural that we do so in the greenest way possible, from recirculating 99 percent of our freshwater consumption to controlling water temperature via energy-efficient heat pumps and heat exchangers,” he said. “We’re also capturing waste material from the growing cycle for re-use as nutrient-rich agricultural fertilizer, and have made provision for own hydro scheme in the future.”

The latest efforts, he said, are only just the start. 

“We’re always thinking about what more we can do to minimize our impact as a food producer, and Barcaldine has a huge part to play in that work," Gallagher said.  "I believe that its story has only just begun.”

Photo courtesy of Scottish Sea Farms


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