Ewan McColl

Marine Harvest: 1988-present

Fish Farmer - - Contents -

When McColl started with Marine Harvest in 1988, he never in­tended to stay with the com­pany. ‘I had just left school and I saw a job ad­ver­tised as a harvest plan­ning as­sis­tant’, he ex­plains. ‘I never planned to stay; that was 27 years ago and I’m still here.’

McColl was brought in at a time when Marine Harvest was in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion. ‘It was still pretty small-scale com­pared to now’, he says. ‘We were har­vest­ing a few thou­sand tonnes a year, which has in­creased over the years – mainly through merger, but there has been some or­ganic growth – and now we’re do­ing in ex­cess of 50,000 tonnes.’

The way in which the fish are har­vested has also changed sig­nif­i­cantly since 1988. Back then all of the fish were har­vested on site’, ex­plains McColl. ‘It was ex­tremely labour in­ten­sive. We had our own small fleet of trucks, and we would bring them to each site with bins full of ice. The fish would be hand-net­ted, hit over the head with wooden

priests and put in the bins of ice. The bins would then be filled with wa­ter and driven back for pro­cess­ing, ei­ther to the new plant at Blar Mhor, or Lochailort, which we kept run­ning un­til around 1989.’

As the op­er­a­tion got big­ger the time soon came when the com­pany reached the lim­its of what could be achieved har­vest­ing on site. ‘We were us­ing big­ger boats and big­ger trucks, but we were still har­vest­ing on site, us­ing wooden priests’, says McColl. ‘The next step was a move away from man­ual to me­chan­i­cal stun­ning. In 2003 we be­gan to use well boats, which would col­lect the fish live on site and take them live to a cen­tral point for har­vest­ing. This, as well as the shift to au­to­mated stun­ning, was cru­cial; by then we’d reached the lim­its of what we could do.

‘We are cur­rently us­ing two well boats, and oc­ca­sion­ally three, in­clud­ing the first fi­first ves­sel from 2003, the Nor­we­gian-built Ronja Com­man­der’, he con­tin­ues. con­tit­in­ues. ‘These ves­sels take 100 tonnes of fish fi­fish at a time, titime, and we are

run­ning them ev­ery day. In 2004 the harvest sta­tion at Mal­laig was built and this, cou­pled with the use of well boats, sig­nalled a huge sea change in the way the com­pany har­vested its fish. Mov­ing for­wards, we have just con­tracted another new well boat, which is due at the be­gin­ning of next year’, he con­tin­ues. ‘Built by In­ter­ship Ltd, the state-of-the-art In­ter Cale­do­nia will be dou­ble the size of the ves­sels we are cur­rently us­ing, with a harvest vol­ume of around 200 tonnes.’

At that point, McColl con­tin­ued in a plan­ning role, look­ing at when to harvest the fish across all of its sites by match­ing sales de­mand and cus­tomer or­ders, as well as look­ing af­ter the harvest sta­tion and the pro­cess­ing plant. ‘I was ef­fec­tively re­spon­si­ble for the whole sup­ply chain, from plan­ning the har­vests through to de­liv­ery to the cus­tomer’, he says. ‘We started us­ing spread­sheets – which were cut­ting edge at the time. We were us­ing large com­put­ers; you’d type in a plan and then go and get a cup of tea whilst the com­puter made the cal­cu­lati­tion,’ tion,’ he laughs.

In terms of trans­porta­tion, the com­pany quickly out­grew its own fleet of trucks. ‘Ini­tially we hired larger, flatbed lor­ries for the bins’, he ex­plains. ‘From 2003 we would un­load the well boats on to road tankers, each car­ry­ing around

20 tonnes of fish. Trans­port­ing the fish this way cut out a lot of ex­tra han­dling and re­duced the stress on the fish, which was bet­ter for both the wel­fare of the fish and the qual­ity of the prod­uct.’

As Pro­cess­ing and Lo­gis­tics Man­ager, McColl is also re­spon­si­ble for the pro­cess­ing fac­tory at Blar Mhor, which had only just been opened when he joined the com­pany. ‘The plant was based on a de­sign from chicken pro­cess­ing’, he ex­plains. ‘It has evolved over the years; it’s a bit big­ger and the equip­ment has evolved, mak­ing it a lit­tle less labour in­ten­sive than it was. In fact, au­to­ma­tion has been the key to cop­ing with the in­crease in vol­ume – Blar Mhor was de­signed with a ca­pac­ity of 5,000 tonnes a year – we now do more than that in a month. We also process all year round, with quiet and busy spells, although the quiet spells are get­ting less and less; it’s been a long time since we’ve had a break of more than a few days.’

Cur­rently, the fac­tory at Blar Mhor is pro­duc­ing whole, gut­ted fish, although there was some added-value done there in the past. ‘We used the area in the fac­tory des­ig­nated for value-added pro­cess­ing to ex­pand our pri­mary pro­cess­ing’, McColl ex­plains. ‘One of our main chal­lenges was staffing, although that is not an is­sue now. The work­force com­prises a mix of lo­cals and eastern Euro­peans, some of whom are cel­e­brat­ing ten years in the com­pany. The chal­lenges go­ing for­ward are mainly to do with pro­cess­ing ca­pac­ity – we are run­ning the fac­tory seven days a week, 12 hours a day, so we will need to ex­pand again in the next few years.’

As well as the changes in har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing, McColl has also seen a num­ber of other sig­nif­i­cant changes within Marine Harvest dur­ing his time with the com­pany. ‘The main change is the scale of the busi­ness. When I first started the in­dus­try was still very young, and a lot of the early pioneers were still there’, he says. ‘The skill set re­quired to be a pi­o­neer is very dif­fer­ent to those re­quired in a ma­ture in­dus­try. Now we are bet­ter or­gan­ised and bet­ter trained. The in­dus­try is also bet­ter reg­u­lated, heav­ily au­dited and there are pro­ce­dures for ev­ery­thing. This en­tails a lot of hard work, but it has be­come part of what we do, and it keeps things trans­par­ent and hon­est, which is not a bad thing.’

McColl has thor­oughly en­joyed his time with Marine Harvest, ‘it’s a great com­pany to work for’, he says. ‘It’s been a plea­sure work­ing in what is an ex­cit­ing in­dus­try; there’s never a dull mo­ment and the peo­ple are good. I ar­rived at a pretty tur­bu­lent pe­riod for the in­dus­try, and been through a lot of dif­fi­cult times – so it’s great to still be here when things are look­ing so good, ev­ery­one is up­beat and when con­fi­dence about the fu­ture is so high.’

It’s great to still be in the in­dus­try when things

are look­ing so good”

Clock­wise from bot­tom left: A young McColl shows he’s above parr – with Graeme Dear; freshly har­vested fish ready for pro­cess­ing; fish har­vest­ing at Ardnish in the late ‘70s; pack­ing fish in wood and poly­styrene boxes, ‘70s and early ‘80s. pic­tured: Peter Bridge

Clock­wise from left: Sta­teof-the-art pro­cess­ing at Blar Mhor; By Royal Ap­point­ment; Blar Mhor

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