Marine Harvest: 1977-present
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 from Martin Davidson