Steve Bracken

Marine Harvest: 1977-present

Fish Farmer - - Contents -

Dur­ing his 38 years with Marine Harvest – mak­ing him the long­est serv­ing em­ployee of the com­pany so far – Bracken has ex­pe­ri­enced just about ev­ery part of the busi­ness, and has been in­volved in the de­vel­op­ment of the com­pany from a cou­ple of farms, at Lochailort and Loch leven, to a global leader. ‘I started work­ing for Marine Harvest on 23 May 1977, af­ter re­ply­ing to an ad­vert in the Oban Times for a fish farm as­sis­tant’, re­calls Bracken. ‘I had a de­gree in ge­og­ra­phy and ba­si­cally wanted to work out­doors. I didn’t have a clue about fish farm­ing but I thought it sounded in­ter­est­ing. I was em­ployed as a su­per­vi­sor. Back then there were no guides, or stan­dards, and I spent my first day as su­per­vi­sor hav­ing never driven a boat be­fore. The boats were wooden clinker with an in­board diesel en­gine. I was shown how to start it, and stop it, and off I went.

Bracken shared the feel­ing of many of those who worked for Marine Harvest at the be­gin­ning that what they were do­ing was pi­o­neer­ing. ‘I re­mem­ber think­ing that the idea of grow­ing fish in wire mesh pens to mar­ket size was fan­tas­tic’, he says. ‘Of course it was fraught with dif­fi­cul­ties, we had ev­ery­thing thrown at us and we had to deal with it. At the time I didn’t think what we were do­ing would feed the world – at the time salmon was a high qual­ity, ex­pen­sive fish, as in­deed it is to­day. But I did think that our tech­niques could be used for other fish. Look­ing back, I’m thrilled and de­lighted to be a part of it.’

Bracken was a su­per­vi­sor un­til 1979, dur­ing which time he was in­volved in ev­ery as­pect of the farm. ‘One minute I was driv­ing a boat, the next I could be pack­ing fish’, he says. In 1979 he was made Farm Ser­vices Co-or­di­na­tor.’ I man­aged the small salmon pro­cess­ing plant at Lochailort, as well as or­gan­is­ing the de­liv­ery of feed to sites and co-or­di­nat­ing the har­vests.’ In 1983 he be­came Fresh­wa­ter Farms Man­ager, with re­spon­si­bil­ity for smolt pro­duc­tion and set­ting up the smolt farms on Loch Garry, Loch Shiel and Loch Arkaig.

In 1985 Bracken was made Pro­ject Man­ager, fo­cus­ing on new site ac­qui­si­tion, new tech­nol­ogy and de­vel­op­ing long-term strate­gies for the busi­ness. ‘The 1980s was when the com­pany be­gan to re­ally ex­pand’, he says. ‘It was a pe­riod of rapid site ac­qui­si­tion and the num­bers of fish in each site was in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly, with all of the as­so­ci­ated prob­lems that come with such ex­pan­sion.’ Be­tween 1987 and 1988 he was in­volved in ac­quir­ing new fresh­wa­ter sites, and sea wa­ter sites in­clud­ing Ar­ran, Mull, Water­nish and the hatch­ery at Mo­rar. ‘Back then ac­quir­ing sites was rel­a­tively straight­for­ward; a far less com­plex process than it is to­day.’

Bracken was taken out of Scot­land in 1988 to run a small tiger prawn farm that Unilever had es­tab­lished in Sri Lanka. ‘It was a very small busi­ness, but it was a unique and ex­cit­ing chal­lenge – a hugely fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence’, he re­calls. ‘When I went out there the busi­ness was mak­ing a loss, but we worked hard to turn it around. I vividly re­mem­ber re­ceiv­ing a Telex from the Com­mer­cial Di­rec­tor, com­mend­ing me for get­ting the busi­ness so many thou­sand ru­pees into the black. Ex­cit­edly, I made the con­ver­sion, which amounted to around £187. I was very proud of that nev­er­the­less.’

When he re­turned to Scot­land, in 1991, Bracken spent a short spell as Con­tract and Es­tates Man­ager, which in­volved de­vel­op­ing Marine Harvest’s con­tract farms, which was a way of ex­pand­ing the busi­ness with­out the need for cap­i­tal in­vest­ment. ‘We would go in and give the con­tract farm­ers smolts for them to grow on’, he ex­plains. ‘For a fee and a bonus they would on­grow our smolts to mar­ket size. This role also in­volved li­ais­ing with landown­ers and statu­tory bod­ies.’

In 1992 Bracken be­came Sea Farms Man­ager, a role he de­scribes as ‘one of the most hugely ex­cit­ing times in my ca­reer with Marine Harvest’. When he started, the com­pany’s farms were pro­duc­ing around 10.5 thou­sand tonnes an­nu­ally, ‘By the time I left that po­si­tion, in 2000, we had man­aged to in­crease out­put to 40,000, which was a huge achieve­ment.’

The 2000s saw Bracken’s role in Marine Harvest be­come more of­fice-based. In 2000 he was made Pro­duc­tion Ser­vices Man­ager, with

re­spon­si­bil­ity for com­pli­ance and per­mis­sion. He also played a cor­po­rate rep­u­ta­tion role for the com­pany. From 2004 to 2008 he was Tech­ni­cal De­vel­op­ment Man­ager for Marine Harvest Europe. ‘I was in­volved in pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal sup­port, au­dit­ing, as well as public re­la­tions for Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd’, he ex­plains.

In 2008 Bracken was given his cur­rent po­si­tion, Busi­ness Sup­port Man­ager. ‘The role en­tails sup­port­ing the busi­ness in any way I can’, he says, ‘whether it’s sup­port­ing key ac­count man­agers with their sales ac­counts, deal­ing with the media and public re­la­tions, or work­ing with the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment through the Con­tain­ment Group; it’s a hugely di­verse re­mit.’

Un­der­stand­ably for some­one who has had such a long ca­reer with Marine Harvest, Bracken has a num­ber of achieve­ments of which he is par­tic­u­larly proud. ‘My time in Sri Lanka cer­tainly counts as one of my per­sonal high­lights’, he says. ‘I am also proud of the early days of ac­quir- ing new site per­mis­sions, which in­volved a lot of work. I was also de­lighted to be part of the com­pany when we ob­tained the Royal War­rant, and achieved La­bel Rouge ac­cred­i­ta­tion, and achiev­ing 40,000 tonnes was very sat­is­fy­ing.’

Bracken is also proud of the work Marine Harvest has done in sup­port­ing the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in which it op­er­ates. ‘It’s very much about putting some­thing back to the ar­eas we farm; it’s not just about eat­ing salmon’, he ex­plains. ‘Over the years a num­ber of peo­ple have ques­tioned why we are do­ing it, but when we ex­plain it to them, and what the re­turn is, they get it. I’m par­tic­u­larly proud of our spon-

At the time I didn’t think what we were do­ing would feed the world – but I did think that our tech­niques could be used for other fish”

sor­ship of the Ca­manachd As­so­ci­a­tion; we’ve spon­sored shinty, which is played in all of the ar­eas we farm, for twenty-eight years and we are de­lighted to have played our part in the de­vel­op­ment of the na­tional sport, which is go­ing from strength to strength.’

One of the big­gest changes Bracken has wit-

To­day, col­lab­o­ra­tion to solve the chal­lenges that face us all is a fun­da­men­tal part of the in­dus­try”

nessed over the years, and one he is proud of be­ing in­volved in, is the way in which the in­dus­try has come to­gether to pro­mote the Scot­tish salmon brand and to tackle in­dus­try is­sues. ‘It says a lot about the in­dus­try that 95 per cent of the ton­nage of salmon pro­duced in Scot­land is farmed by com­pa­nies that have signed up to the Code of Good Prac­tice, and em­braced vol­un­tary cer­ti­fi­ca­tion’, he says. ‘Peo­ple like An­gus Mor­gan did a lot of work on es­tab­lish­ing Scot­tish salmon as a pre­mium prod­uct, but this would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the back­ing of the in­dus­try. And the same is also true of the Scot­tish Tech­ni­cal Stan­dard, which has been a real col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort.

‘The area man­age­ment agree­ment be­tween Marine Harvest and McCon­nell Salmon in the ‘80s was a real land­mark for the in­dus­try’, he con­tin­ues. ‘It was an ac­knowl­edge­ment that there were is­sues that af­fected the whole in­dus­try and it sig­nalled a huge shift in at­ti­tude, to­wards work­ing to­gether to ad­dress them. To­day, col­lab­o­ra­tion to solve the chal­lenges that face all of us is a fun­da­men­tal part of the in­dus­try, and it’s great to see.’

Op­po­site page: Steve Bracken now, and in 1993 This page: En­joy­ing his 35 years’ ser­vice cel­e­bra­tion, with Alan Suther­land (left) and David Cor­ri­gan

Clock­wise from above: As sea farms man­ager in the ‘90s with Ron­nie Hawkins (far left) and cus­tomer; sit­ting on the Fish Farmer Ed­i­to­rial Board, with Jim Trea­surer (cen­tre) and Herve Mi­gaud; with Jayne MacKay re­ceiv­ing an Out­ward Bound Trust cer­tifi­cate...

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