Marine Harvest: 2006-present
Sutherland joined Marine Harvest in 2006 after a career in fish farming that began in 1982. ‘After graduating from Aberdeen with a BSc (Hons) in zoology I worked in the trout sector’, Sutherland explains. ‘In 1997 I joined Lighthouse of Scotland Ltd as Feed Manager, progressing through various addition- al roles focusing on technical and fish health aspects of the company’s activities. When Lighthouse became Pan Fish Scotland, I became Production Manager, with responsibility for all freshwater and sea water operations.’
In 2003 Sutherland moved to Pan Fish Canada (and US), eventually becoming Production Man- ager, which involved responsibility for freshwater and sea water operations, as well as broodstock, well boats and processing. Following the merger of Pan Fish, Fjord and Marine Harvest at the end of 2006, he returned to Scotland as the tenth MD of the ‘new’ Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd. ‘As with previous takeovers, the decision was made to retain the Marine Harvest name because it was a strong and recognised brand’, he says.
There were a number of challenges facing Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd when Sutherland took over in 2006. ‘In 2007 pancreas disease was a huge problem for the company, as were sea lice’, he says. ‘Access to capital investment for equipment upgrades was also a challenge initially.
‘The biggest challenge, from a business unit perspective, was that we were not regarded as being in the same league as certain other Marine Harvest business units’, he continues. ‘This was based on previous biological and commercial performance and is certainly no longer the case. In the latest Scottish business insider rankings we were listed at number 41, which puts us above the likes of Glenmorangie.
Most people don’t understand the scale or significance of the business; we are now the number one food exporter in the UK, which is an incredible achievement.’
Challenges going forwards, says Sutherland, include AGD and other environmental issues. The biggest concern, however, remains sea lice. But the collaborative approach of the industry in tackling this, and other industry-wide issues, is a trend that is welcomed by Sutherland. ‘In order for our business, and indeed the Scottish industry, to grow and flourish we have to demonstrate that this can be achieved ‘sustainably’ – controlling sea lice is obviously an important aspect of this.’
To this end, Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd is involved in a couple of big collaborative projects. ‘We are working with The Scottish Salmon Co, BioMar, Stirling University and the SAIC on a project to upscale cleaner fish production,’ Sutherland explains, ‘as well as a wrasse project, also with Scottish Sea Farms and Stirling University, based at Machrihanish.’ The latter project: ‘Wrasse – A Collaborative Approach to an Industry Challenge’, won the Stewardship Award at the recent Scottish Marine Aquaculture Awards.
‘There was a time when you weren’t allowed anywhere near another farm’, says Sutherland. ‘Now there is a culture of openness and the sharing of ideas. There is an industry-wide recognition that we have common issues and problems – it’s a waste of time and effort trying to control sea lice when, for example, the farm at the other end of the loch has a louse problem. Industry problems are now being solved by the industry and, in that respect, the idea of intellectual property rights is pretty pointless.’
One of the main changes Sutherland has witnessed during his time with Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd has been the maturation of the company into a modern, professional business. ‘This includes auditing and accreditation with standards including GlobalGAP, Freedom Foods, ISO, PGI, Label Rouge, BRC, Code of Good Practice and ASC’, he says. ‘The equipment that is available to us today: well boats, recirculation technology
Most people don’t understand the scale or significance of the business; we are now the
number one food exporter in the UK”
and improved containment, have all contributed to this. For example, when I first started at Loch Earn, we were using a copy of a 20-foot Kames pen, made from timber and blocks of polystyrene. The fish were fed by hand from a bucket – we didn’t even have a scoop.
‘Lifejackets were unheard of; Health and Safety in those days was non-existent’, he adds. ‘One of the gratifying things I have seen in the progression of the industry over the years is that we now take the health and safety of our employees very seriously. Loss time incidents are one of the key metrics that we are measured on at a corporate level and we take them very seriously, give them high priority.’
Of course, the growth of the company into a modern, professional business could not have been possible without the growth of its staff. ‘There are now around 70 different job titles within the company’, Sutherland explains, ‘with staff comprising a good balance of experience, employees with 25-30 years’ experience, as well as new blood, like our new apprentices. Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd now provides the next generation with top class training and a ‘proper job’, with excellent career opportunities.’ Indeed, staff retention at Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd is very high, and sickness absence is ‘virtually zero’, which says all you need to know about employee satisfaction.
Sutherland lists a number of successes during his tenure at Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd. ‘Primarily, it is being able to provide safe and meaningful employment/careers to our staff’, he says. ‘In terms of the business, the improvement in the biological performance of our salmon – FCR, growth, survival and quality – has been a real success story, as has the implementation of the use of cleaner fish to control sea lice. The promotion of provenance-based marketing of our salmon has also made huge strides over the years, and all of this has culminated in an improvement in our financial results, which is fantastic.’
Marine Harvest Scotland’s presence at the Coronation Festival, which took place over four days in July 2013, was another great moment for Sutherland. ‘As one of only 800 Royal Warrant Holders, we are very proud to have had the opportunity to exhibit in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.’
Sutherland also views the continued support of the communities in which Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd operates as an aspect of the business of which he is particularly proud. ‘As a company we put around £200,000 annually back into good causes, whether through direct support, sponsorship _ including the Marine Harvest Shinty award and the Women’s Camanachd _ or raising money for charity’, he explains. ‘We also make numerous visits to local schools to promote the health benefits of salmon. The fact is that if it was not for the local fish farm, many communities on the west coast wouldn’t have a primary school, or a petrol station – aquaculture has made a significant impact on the wider economies of these areas.’
When discussing the future of Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd, Sutherland is extremely optimistic. ‘I predict that the company will continue to grow and prosper, and continue to be an industry leader within the salmon farming sector’, he says. ‘Fish farming has got to be the future; 70 per cent of the globe is covered by water and yet only two per cent of our food comes from here. Compared to the production of terrestrial proteins, fish farming is a more efficient, sustainable alternative and produces tasty, healthy food for a growing population.’
Above: Alan Sutherland, Managing Director, Marine Harvest Scotland Left: Jack Ferguson (Ferguson Transport), Alan Sutherland, Alasdair Ferguson (Ferguson Transport)
Top: The MH team at the Coronation Festival, with chef, Sophie Wright (centre) Above The stand in the gardens of Buckingham Palace