Do we think enough about what gives the industry its edge in key markets?
It may not be politically correct to say so at present but farmed Atlantic salmon would not have become Scotland’s leading food export without the Crown Estate’s positive engagement with aquaculture development back in the 1980s.
Now, aquaculture is a significant part of the agency’s marine leasing portfolio and is regularly celebrated by the Crown Estate’s Scottish Marine Aquaculture Awards event. This year’s event in Edinburgh on the 11 June was the usual highly successful showcase for Scottish aquaculture and a rare opportunity for industry to join together to mark its success.
The Crown Estate is presently at the centre of further devolution discussions between the UK government and Scottish government. The long-term future of key Scottish functions remains unclear and professional expertise could be squandered in the process of organisational change.
Both the Crown Estate’s core expertise and the Marine Aquaculture Awards are important in maintaining the distinctive coherence of Scotland’s aquaculture and it would be a tragedy if they became casualties of political change.
This year’s Awards event was hosted by actress, writer and comedian Jo Caulfield, an inspired choice by whoever made the booking. She was very funny and entertaining and kept the proceedings going with a swing. Only once did she stray, when she wondered what ‘provenance actually meant’.
In a room full of folk whose livelihoods depend on the provenance of their products she quickly sensed an audience response and moved to safer comedic material: there are some things you just don’t joke about!
However, her remark left me asking myself whether we think enough about the underpinning of the provenance of Scottish farmed fish – and for me that’s farmed salmon.
There is no doubt that Scottish provenance is important to our industry – it gives us the edge in all our key markets.
Provenance can be defined in various ways but most people will agree that it goes beyond the appearance and sensory qualities of the final product: flavour, texture, visual presentation and product consistency are always key factors in consumer appeal but provenance is about much more.
It reflects a wider concept of consumer quality assurance, including: the place where the fish is grown and processed; the professional integrity of the production and processing methods; and the quality, commitment and care of the people involved – the professional skills, expertise, passion and dedication of the producers themselves.
In Scotland our ‘place of production’ gives us a huge natural advantage because we grow fish in the pristine coastal waters of some of the most beautiful and wild scenic areas of the world, and our brand is protected by its PGI status.
Likewise, adoption of the Scottish Finfish Code of Good Practice allied with the industry’s deep commitment to a range of independent farm quality assurance programmes, including the RSPCA fish welfare scheme, builds on the underlying strength of our statutory regulatory systems to assure our production systems.
Finally, the skills, expertise, passion and dedication of our farmers can be demonstrated in abundance day in and day out – and they were showcased by the recent awards event.
However, being wholly objective and forward looking, it is this third area of provenance where the Scottish industry has greatest scope for systematic development. That is not to say that our industry’s skills and professional expertise are not of the highest calibre, but it is to recognise that our vocational educational and training structures, and
We should be organising our training and education provisions much better”
particularly our in-career educational progression and continuous professional development, are not as well developed, well structured and as coherent as they could be.
Thus this element of ‘quality assurance’ of our people often rests on an imperfectly structured combination of national education awards, including the now widely adopted Modern Apprenticeships, and an array of statutorily required and in-house or bespoke training courses.
I believe we really should be organising our training and education provisions much better than this.
Recent analysis by SSPO member companies has highlighted that the present salmon industry has an employment framework offering more than 60 different jobs, ranging from technical farming and processing jobs to managerial positions in technical areas, marketing and business management.
What we now require is an industry-wide adoption of a professional qualification as a basic entry point to the industry and an education and training framework that offers career progression and linked qualifications moving onwards and upwards from entry level to degree level and beyond, with specialist options accessible along the way.
Moreover, much of the entry level training and education should be provided through work based learning, while the higher level stages should enthusiastically embrace modern IT-based learning and education systems.
That approach would now be regarded as ‘best practice’ internationally in other sectors of the advanced economy and it should be the objective for the further development of enhanced ‘people provenance’ in the Scottish aquaculture industry.
For more on education and training see page 48.