Lochailort

Fish Farmer - - The Sixties & Seventies – Introduction -

Grow­ing rain­bow trout in the sea re­quired a shel­tered sea wa­ter site in close prox­im­ity to a con­stant sup­ply of fresh wa­ter. Lochailort pro­vided the per­fect lo­ca­tion, and in­cluded a num­ber of build­ings built by the army when the es­tate was req­ui­si­tioned dur­ing WWII. The es­tate’s owner, Mrs Cameron-Head, was also keen to lease the site to Unilever, as a means of bring­ing em­ploy­ment to the area.

The site at Lochailort com­prised a small se a farm with four pens, a set of ex­per­i­men­tal pens for re­search, a hatch­ery and a small pro­cess­ing/pack­ing plant. Dur­ing con­struc­tion, to avoid de­lays in the pro­gramme, the first batches of trout were reared at the Hy­dro-Elec­tric Board’s hatch­ery at In­ver­garry and then trans­ferred to three cages at Lochailort, with the f ourth con­tain­ing some parr, which Marine Har vest had been asked to grow on and r elease into the River Ailort.

Re­spon­si­bil­ity for the day-to-day run­ning of Lochailort was given to its first man­ager, Dr Robin Bradley, although by 1968 this func­tion had been taken over by Unilever Re­search, which had its own per­ma­nent team at Lochailort along­side that of Marine Harvest. By the late ‘60s/early ‘70s the de­ci­sion had also been made to con­cen­trate on de­vel­op­ing salmon com­mer­cially, partly be­cause the de­mand was there, partly be­cause salmon com­manded a much bet­ter mar­ket price.

In 1970 Marine Harvest ac­quired the lease of the hatch­ery at In­ver­garry. By then it had been demon­strated that fish could be trans­ported safely around the coun­try, which meant that it was un­nec­es­sary for a hatch­ery to be at­tached to a farm. Ini­tially, brood­stock were kept in fresh­wa­ter tanks at In­ver­garry, un­til it was es­tab­lished that strip­ping could also be done in the sea. In its first year, 30,000 smolts were pro­duced at In­ver­garry. Un­til it was de­com­mis­sioned a few years ago, it was pro­duc­ing around 200,000. Unilever had also by this time de­vel­oped and patented a process to trans­fer smolts di­rectly into the sea, which it even­tu­ally sold to the High­lands and Is­lands De­vel­op­ment Board for £1 in the mid-70s.

1971 was an im­por­tant mile­stone in the history of Marine Harvest: its first harvest, a mod­est 14 tonnes. Im­por­tantly, how­ever, the qual­ity of the fish was ex­cep­tional and the com­pany had shown the world that farm­ing salmon could be done. The visit to Lochailort by the Duke of Ed­in­burgh in 1974 sig­nalled the ar­rival of Marine Harvest as a com­pany

with a fu­ture.

With Unilever sat­is­fied that salmon farm­ing was com­mer­cially vi­able in 1975 Marine Harvest es­tab­lished its sec­ond sea farm, in Loch Leven. By 1976 Lochailort had ex­panded to three farm sites and the harvest that year was 116 tonnes. There was fur­ther ex­pan­sion be­tween 1978 and 1979, with the es­tab­lish­ment of sea sites in Skye (Cairidh), Loch Su­nart (Lau­dale) and Kin­gair­loch, a new hatch­ery at Inch­more and its first fresh­wa­ter site in Loch Shiel (Dalilea). The fresh­wa­ter site was de­vel­oped in re­sponse to a lack of tank space to keep smolts, which forced the com­pany to experiment – suc­cess­fully – with putting fry di­rectly into fresh wa­ter to smolt.

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