Sea farms report high fish survival rate and new jobs

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Scottish Sea Farms has reported a high fish survival rate and said it created 30 new jobs in 2020 – despite the pandemic.

The company has fish farms across the West Coast of Scotland, along with those on the islands of Orkney and Shetland.

Over the full year, it achieved an average annual survival rate among salmon of 92 per cent across its 42-strong estate, it said.

This brings Scottish Sea Farms’ average annual survival rate for the last five-year period to 91 per cent, it added.

Jim Gallagher, managing director, said in a statement: ‘2020 was 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 – a duty of care that applies 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 also attributed the ‘high survival rates’ to the company’s long-term strategic investment programme.

‘We’re working hard every single day to make the best decisions for our fish by 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.’

The company said in 2020 alone, its investments included:

  • £1m in the creation of 30 new roles across the company
  • £1.9m in a new service vessel, the Fair Isle, to support the company’s Northern Isles farms and free up existing vessel, the Sally Anne, for the mainland region
  • £2.3m on the Helen Mary, a hydrolicer and support vessel, to help ensure timely control of sea lice without the use of medicines
  • £3.2M new farm at Hunda, Orkney, including a hybrid barge and two dedicated workboats.

It said these investments were in addition to a series of upgrades to existing farm infrastructure, including feed barges, remote feeding systems, predator control netting and environmental monitoring.

Dr Ralph Bickerdike, Scottish Sea Farms’ head of fish health, said: ‘It’s hugely reassuring to see our hard work and ongoing investment deliver 92 per cent average survival amongst a species thought to have a survival rate of just five per cent or less in the wild.

‘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.

The company said plankton blooms can ‘challenge’ fish gills – organs vital to their overall health and wellbeing.

The company revealed that in November 2020, a ‘plankton event’ contributed to a fall in survival rates at its Lismore East farm in Loch Linnhe.

Survival rates fell from 92 per cent to 63 per cent afterwards.

This compared to survival rates of 89 per cent and 95 per cent for the same farm’s previous two crops, respectively.

Dr Bickerdike said: ‘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.’