Wil­lie For­tune

Marine Harvest: 1977-1995

Fish Farmer - - Contents -

Be­cause it was sum­mer the smolts were ready to be put to

sea in six months”

Af­ter work­ing as a driv­ing in­struc­tor and an es­tate worker on the Glen­moidart Es­tate, For­tune joined Marine Harvest as a Sea­wa­ter As­sis­tant in 1977. ‘I worked at Lochailort for three years and then be­came a Fresh­wa­ter Man­ager’, he ex­plains. ‘At that time we had the hatch­ery at Inch­more and fresh­wa­ter sites at Dalilea and Glen­finnan on ei­ther end of Loch Shiel.’ The main chal­lenges on the fresh­wa­ter side of things, For­tune ex­plains, were mainly dis­ease and var­i­ous tech­ni­cal chal­lenges. ‘Dis­ease was an is­sue, but we would al­ways carry out weekly dis­ease checks’, he re­calls. ‘What we pi­o­neered was putting first feed­ers di­rectly into pens in fresh­wa­ter lochs. Be­fore that they had al­ways been grown on in tanks in the hatch­eries but we were pro­duc­ing more and more fish and we were run­ning out of tank space – we were forced to in­no­vate. We ex­per­i­mented with mesh size, and ended up us­ing a 2mm mesh. The prob­lem was that they blocked up very quickly so we had to change them regularly.

‘It was all pi­o­neer­ing stuff, ty­ing to come up with dif­fer­ent ideas to grow fish in a bet­ter way’, For­tune con­tin­ues. ‘We were do­ing some­thing that hadn’t been done be­fore and, per­son­ally, I felt like I was part of some­thing im­por­tant, and I think most peo­ple who worked for Marine Harvest at the time felt the same. Ev­ery day brought a new chal­lenge, and it was ex­cit­ing. And, of course, we were al­ways try­ing to keep ahead of the Nor­we­gians’, he laughs.

For­tune’s proud­est mo­ment with Marine Harvest was in 1987, when he helped set up the com­pany’s op­er­a­tion in Chile. ‘I was cho­sen to go out ahead to set up the hatch­ery and re­ceive the first batch of eggs’, he ex­plains. ‘It re­ally was a race against time to get the wa­ter on and set up the trays for the eggs; the wa­ter had only been on a cou­ple of days be­fore the first box of eggs ar­rived. The con­di­tions were ex­tremely dif­fi­cult; it was Fe­bru­ary, which is sum­mer in Chile, and the tem­per­a­tures were very high. We had to cool the wa­ter in the hatch­ery with bags of ice to al­low the eggs to ac­cli­ma­tise.’

Over a mil­lion eggs were sent out, all of which were put on trays. ‘I re­ally en­joyed the chal­lenge of Chile’, says For­tune. ‘And, be­cause it was sum­mer the smolts were ready to be put to sea in six months; it was the first time I can re­mem­ber that ever be­ing done be­fore. Ralph (Bail­lie) came out with his fam­ily a cou­ple of months later, and although we were

con­tin­u­ously fac­ing new chal­lenges – such as the nets, which had a 2mm mesh and kept be­ing blocked by na­tive fish spawn­ing in the lake – but we man­aged, and it was a great suc­cess. I was there for about six months, re­turn­ing briefly in De­cem­ber to help Ralph trans­port the smolts to sea. It was all very ex­cit­ing stuff.’

When For­tune ar­rived back from Chile, he was made Fresh­wa­ter Di­vi­sional Man­ager, un­der Bruce Hill­coat. ‘My re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were look­ing af­ter the hatch­ery at Mo­rar, the Lochailort smolt unit and the Loch Shiel sites.’ For­tune re­mained in this role un­til he left the com­pany, in 1995.

There were a num­ber of changes that For­tune wit­nessed dur­ing his eigh­teen years with Marine Harvest. ‘One of the main changes was when we started do­ing bet­ter FCRs, in­stead of just feed­ing the fish’, he ex­plains. ‘This started in about 1980; Unilever Re­search worked re­ally hard on it – they put cam­eras into the pens watch­ing the fish feed­ing, and looked care­fully at FCR ta­bles – it re­ally was quite a sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment.

‘Another big change was the pro­cess­ing plant at Blar Mhor, in 1987’, he adds. ‘Be­fore that, all of our fish were pro­cessed at Lochailort – it was very ba­sic; we’d pack the fish in boxes of ice, nail the lids on and put them in a cou­ple of lor­ries to Aberdeen for the fish train. Blar Mhor was a huge step for­ward for the com­pany. Also, I al­ways saw the fu­ture of fish farm­ing be­ing out to sea, but we didn’t have the pen tech­nol­ogy, and we needed shel­tered lochs. Now, how­ever, Marine Harvest has some open sea sites and I can only see these be­ing the first of many.’

For­tune is not sur­prised at how suc­cess­ful Marine Harvest has be­come. ‘I thor­oughly en­joyed my time with them; it was a very in­ter­est­ing job to do and I felt the com­pany would get big­ger’, he says. ‘When I started the Forestry Com­mis­sion was the largest em­ployer in the west of Scot­land, and that has now been out­stripped by aqua­cul­ture. Marine Harvest is a great em­ployer; it has pro­vided steady jobs for a lot of peo­ple, which is great for fam­i­lies.’

Clock­wise from top: Trans­fer­ring the first smolts into the sea pen in Chile, 1987 – the wood and poly­styrene pen was typ­i­cal of those used dur­ing the ‘70s and ‘80s; first hatch­ing trays in Chile, 1987; (l-r) Pablo Achurra; Manuel Bar­ros; Ralph Bail­lie; and Wil­lie For­tune at Puerto Montt, 1987

Top: Wil­lie For­tune hand feed­ing in the ‘70s Mid­dle: For­tune lean­ing against one of the first hatch­ery tanks in Chile, 1987 Bot­tom: The first smolt trans­port from the hatch­ery to the sea site in Chile, 1987

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