Graeme Dear

Marine Harvest: 1995-2004

Fish Farmer - - Contents -

TAfter a de­gree in mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy and a PhD in fish dis­eases at He­riot Watt Univer­sity, in 1987 Dear got a job at the gov­ern­ment’s marine lab­o­ra­tory in Aberdeen as a fish health in­spec­tor, which he did for a cou­ple of years be­fore join­ing McCon­nell Salmon as Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tor.

‘At this point salmon farm­ing was re­ally be­gin­ning to take off ’, he ex­plains, ‘although there were only around 10,000 tonnes be­ing pro­duced an­nu­ally in Scot­land – I know this be­cause I did the sur­vey. The in­dus­try was mov­ing from an ar­ti­sanal ap­proach and ramp­ing up pro­duc­tion, and dis­ease was be­gin­ning to take its toll. And, be­cause salmon was a rel­a­tively mi­nor species, there were no ex­peri- enced vets and no vac­cines, this all had to be de­vel­oped.

‘Just prior to leav­ing the civil ser­vice, by co­in­ci­dence I vis­ited a cou­ple of McCon­nell Salmon sites as part of my fish in­spec­tion du­ties’, he con­tin­ues, ‘and af­ter see­ing the state they were in, I re­mem­ber telling my wife that I may have made a mis­take. So I spoke to the Gen­eral Man­ager, David Wind­mill, and told him that un­less they were pre­pared to change the way they farmed, there was noth­ing I could do for them. He said: “You tell us what to do and I’ll give you my com­mit­ment that we will change ac­cord­ingly.”’

The first thing that meant was mov­ing from multi-class farms to all out sin­gle-year class farms, some­thing that Marine Harvest had al­ready be­gun to do’, con­tin­ues Dear. ‘We needed to go fur­ther, how­ever, which is when we spoke to Marine Harvest about an experiment to fal­low Loch Su­nart, in which McCon­nell Salmon, Marine Harvest and a cou­ple of smaller guys had farms. What­ever one farm had, they gave to all of the farms. I got to know Gor­don Rae and Ralph Bail­lie very well and we made the world’s first man­age­ment agree­ment.

‘On Fe­bru­ary 14 1990 we fal­lowed the whole loch, and were not al­lowed to re­stock for six weeks. We also had agree­ments on the qual­ity of the smolts put into the loch, and the tests that had to be done. The re­sults were in­cred­i­ble. For the next two cy­cles sur­vival in­creased from 50 per cent to around 93 per cent and fish size dou­bled. That was the be­gin­ning of the prin­ci­ple of work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively, and McCon­nell Salmon and Marine Harvest ex­tended their agree­ments into other lochs where we shared sites. It was a huge turn­ing point for the in­dus­try, and stood us in good stead when ISA ap­peared – for me, it’s still al­most the best model for salmon farm­ing that we have to­day.’

There were still some fun­da­men­tal chal­lenges, Dear ex­plains. ‘Of course it mat­tered that you put qual­ity smolts in, and that you put in sin­gle-year classes, and fal­lowed, but it didn’t stop fu­run­cu­lo­sis, for which there still weren’t any ef­fec­tive con­trols – there was a lot of an­tibi­otic use’, he says. ‘We did a lot of work through the Scot­tish Salmon Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, and there was a lot of col­lab­o­ra­tive work amongst the in­dus­try, Stir­ling Univer­sity and vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ers, and even­tu­ally ef­fec­tive vac­cines for fu­run­cu­lo­sis were pro­duced.’

Whilst the late ‘80s had wit­nessed the ar­rival of sea lice, on the whole it was an is­sue that was fairly man­age­able at the time, ex­plains Dear. ‘Although prior to fu­run­cu­lo­sis vac­cines, the com­bi­na­tion of that and sea lice was hor­rific. I re­mem­ber be­ing in­vited as a gov­ern­ment ob­server to Marine Harvest at Loch Su­nart, where they were tri­alling sea lice treat­ments, to try and get them li­censed for use’, he says. ‘We were do­ing bath treat­ments, but gov­ern­ment leg­is­la­tion meant we had to do them with the pen fully en­closed, whereas the Nor­we­gians were able to use a skirt with­out a base. It was so time con­sum­ing and in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing – but it was the law.

‘The first sea lice treat­ment we used was Dichlor­vos, and when that was banned we switched to hy­dro­gen perox­ide’, he con­tin­ues. ‘Even­tu­ally in­feed treat­ments were de­vel­oped, which was a god­send. This, com­bined with fu­run­cu­lo­sis vac­ci­na­tion, made a huge dif­fer­ence. I can hon­estly say that be­tween 2000 and 2004, when I left, Marine Harvest used zero an­tibi­otics.’

By the mid-‘90s things were go­ing so well that Booker de­cided to buy Marine Harvest, which at the time was owned by the ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, Han­son plc. ‘I did all the due dili­gence for Booker on the farms in Scot­land and Chile’, Dear ex­plains. ‘And, dur­ing this whole pe­riod, I learnt a lot about merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions, and how to man­age peo­ple. The cul­tures of Unilever and Booker were very dif­fer­ent; the fact that Marine Harvest had of­fices at Craigcrook Castle and McCon­nell Salmon had theirs above an ASDA in Cly­de­bank high­lights this. We moved to Craigcrook and spent a long time try­ing to merge the two cul­tures, and did the best we could.’

In 1999 Booker sold Marine Harvest to the Nor­we­gian com­pany, Nutreco. ‘This was a strate­gic de­ci­sion by Nutreco’, says Dear. ‘By then

Marine Harvest had of­fices at Craigcrook Castle and McCon­nell Salmon had theirs above an ASDA in Cly­de­bank”

it was the world’s largest salmon feed com­pany, with in­ter­ests in chicken breed­ing and pro­cess­ing. In the late ‘90s I spent a lot of time in Chile, work­ing closely with Andy Jack­son, which was a re­ally in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. In 2000, David Wind­mill went out to run Marine Harvest Chile, and I took over as MD in Scot­land. In 2003 they brought in a guy from the poul­try in­dus­try, who wanted to fun­da­men­tally change the way salmon was sold within the com­pany.

‘He wanted a sin­gle sales point, so the sales team moved to Nor­way and a sin­gle or­der point was set up in Hol­land. How­ever, I didn’t be­lieve in it, be­cause we could sell Scot­tish salmon at a pre­mium. So, in 2004 I left the com­pany to work at Skret­ting. I was very sad to leave Marine Harvest, I left a lot of very good friends – in­clud­ing John Lis­ter, who is now sadly de­parted – but you have to be­lieve in what you are do­ing, so I felt it was time for me to move on.’

In 2007 Dear was made re­dun­dant, so he set up his own con­sul­tancy and worked on a num­ber of aqua­cul­ture projects for a year or so, be­fore join­ing his cur­rent em­ployer, Avi­a­gen, in 2008. ‘I am still in­volved in salmon farm­ing as a non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Gle­n­arm Or­ganic Salmon’, he ex­plains. ‘And the com­pany I work for, EW Group, has bought Aqua Gen. The belief in the im­por­tance of breed­ing has been a part of the poul­try in­dus­try for years, the salmon in­dus­try still re­quires some con­vinc­ing – but it will come.’

Re­flect­ing on his las t six years at Marine Harvest, Dear sees th e in­tro­duc­tion of more tech­nol­ogy and equip­ment as an im­por­tant pe­riod for the com­pany. ‘In that time we brought in the feed barges, au­to­matic feed­ing sys­tems, fish stun­ners (which was very much an Andy Jack­son pro­ject and for which we were awarded an an­i­mal wel­fare award), the Mal­laig Harvest Sta­tion and well boat de­liv­ery of live fish’, he says. ‘I think all of that helped to move the busi­ness for­ward in ef­fi­ciency and tech­no­log­i­cal terms.’

Dear has many proud mo­ments dur­ing his time with Marine Harvest. ‘ The man­age­ment agree­ments are ob­vi­ously a high­light’, he says, ‘par­tic­u­larly when the work­ers on the ground ac­knowl­edge the im­por­tance of what you are try­ing to do. I re­mem­ber when I first told the guys on Loch Su­nart that we were go­ing to fal­low the loch, all they thought was, “no fish, no job.” I ex­plained that the fal­low pe­riod was a time when you could clean the nets, check the moor­ings and pens and, four years later, af­ter the sec­ond cy­cle, one of the guys came up to me and said: ‘You saved this com­pany’. I went away that day a lit­tle wet in the eye.

‘Be­fore I left the com­pany, I went around all of the farms and got pho­to­graphs of my­self with the crews. I have some fan­tas­tic mem­o­ries and I made some last­ing friend­ships – it was a fan­tas­tic time in my life, and it’s the peo­ple I miss the most..

Above: Loch Su­nart, where Marine Harvest and McCon­nell Salmon made the world’s first man­age­ment agree­ment, in 1990 Right: Graeme Dear

Above: (l-r) Iain Camp­bell, Andy Jack­son, Graeme Dear and John Lis­ter at Craigcrook Castle Left: The MHM di­rec­tors: left to right: Graeme Dear (pro­duc­tion), John Lis­ter (fi­nance), An­gus Mor­gan (mar­ket­ing), David Wind­mill (man­ag­ing)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.