Alan Suther­land

Marine Harvest: 2006-present

Fish Farmer - - Contents -

Suther­land joined Marine Harvest in 2006 af­ter a ca­reer in fish farm­ing that be­gan in 1982. ‘Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Aberdeen with a BSc (Hons) in zool­ogy I worked in the trout sec­tor’, Suther­land ex­plains. ‘In 1997 I joined Light­house of Scot­land Ltd as Feed Man­ager, pro­gress­ing through var­i­ous ad­di­tion- al roles fo­cus­ing on tech­ni­cal and fish health as­pects of the com­pany’s ac­tiv­i­ties. When Light­house be­came Pan Fish Scot­land, I be­came Pro­duc­tion Man­ager, with re­spon­si­bil­ity for all fresh­wa­ter and sea wa­ter oper­a­tions.’

In 2003 Suther­land moved to Pan Fish Canada (and US), even­tu­ally be­com­ing Pro­duc­tion Man- ager, which in­volved re­spon­si­bil­ity for fresh­wa­ter and sea wa­ter oper­a­tions, as well as brood­stock, well boats and pro­cess­ing. Fol­low­ing the merger of Pan Fish, Fjord and Marine Harvest at the end of 2006, he re­turned to Scot­land as the tenth MD of the ‘new’ Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd. ‘As with pre­vi­ous takeovers, the de­ci­sion was made to re­tain the Marine Harvest name be­cause it was a strong and recog­nised brand’, he says.

There were a num­ber of chal­lenges fac­ing Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd when Suther­land took over in 2006. ‘In 2007 pan­creas dis­ease was a huge prob­lem for the com­pany, as were sea lice’, he says. ‘Ac­cess to cap­i­tal in­vest­ment for equip­ment up­grades was also a chal­lenge ini­tially.

‘The big­gest chal­lenge, from a busi­ness unit per­spec­tive, was that we were not re­garded as be­ing in the same league as cer­tain other Marine Harvest busi­ness units’, he con­tin­ues. ‘This was based on pre­vi­ous bi­o­log­i­cal and com­mer­cial per­for­mance and is cer­tainly no longer the case. In the latest Scot­tish busi­ness in­sider rank­ings we were listed at num­ber 41, which puts us above the likes of Glen­morangie.

Most peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the scale or sig­nif­i­cance of the busi­ness; we are now the num­ber one food ex­porter in the UK, which is an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment.’

Chal­lenges go­ing for­wards, says Suther­land, in­clude AGD and other en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. The big­gest con­cern, how­ever, re­mains sea lice. But the col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach of the in­dus­try in tack­ling this, and other in­dus­try-wide is­sues, is a trend that is wel­comed by Suther­land. ‘In or­der for our busi­ness, and in­deed the Scot­tish in­dus­try, to grow and flour­ish we have to demon­strate that this can be achieved ‘sus­tain­ably’ – con­trol­ling sea lice is ob­vi­ously an im­por­tant as­pect of this.’

To this end, Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd is in­volved in a cou­ple of big col­lab­o­ra­tive projects. ‘We are work­ing with The Scot­tish Salmon Co, BioMar, Stir­ling Univer­sity and the SAIC on a pro­ject to up­scale cleaner fish pro­duc­tion,’ Suther­land ex­plains, ‘as well as a wrasse pro­ject, also with Scot­tish Sea Farms and Stir­ling Univer­sity, based at Machri­han­ish.’ The lat­ter pro­ject: ‘Wrasse – A Col­lab­o­ra­tive Ap­proach to an In­dus­try Chal­lenge’, won the Stew­ard­ship Award at the re­cent Scot­tish Marine Aqua­cul­ture Awards.

‘There was a time when you weren’t al­lowed any­where near another farm’, says Suther­land. ‘Now there is a cul­ture of open­ness and the shar­ing of ideas. There is an in­dus­try-wide recog­ni­tion that we have com­mon is­sues and prob­lems – it’s a waste of time and ef­fort try­ing to con­trol sea lice when, for ex­am­ple, the farm at the other end of the loch has a louse prob­lem. In­dus­try prob­lems are now be­ing solved by the in­dus­try and, in that re­spect, the idea of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights is pretty point­less.’

One of the main changes Suther­land has wit­nessed dur­ing his time with Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd has been the mat­u­ra­tion of the com­pany into a mod­ern, pro­fes­sional busi­ness. ‘This in­cludes au­dit­ing and ac­cred­i­ta­tion with stan­dards in­clud­ing Glob­alGAP, Free­dom Foods, ISO, PGI, La­bel Rouge, BRC, Code of Good Prac­tice and ASC’, he says. ‘The equip­ment that is avail­able to us to­day: well boats, re­cir­cu­la­tion tech­nol­ogy

Most peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the scale or sig­nif­i­cance of the busi­ness; we are now the

num­ber one food ex­porter in the UK”

and im­proved con­tain­ment, have all con­trib­uted to this. For ex­am­ple, when I first started at Loch Earn, we were us­ing a copy of a 20-foot Kames pen, made from tim­ber and blocks of poly­styrene. The fish were fed by hand from a bucket – we didn’t even have a scoop.

‘Life­jack­ets were un­heard of; Health and Safety in those days was non-ex­is­tent’, he adds. ‘One of the grat­i­fy­ing things I have seen in the pro­gres­sion of the in­dus­try over the years is that we now take the health and safety of our em­ploy­ees very se­ri­ously. Loss time in­ci­dents are one of the key met­rics that we are mea­sured on at a cor­po­rate level and we take them very se­ri­ously, give them high pri­or­ity.’

Of course, the growth of the com­pany into a mod­ern, pro­fes­sional busi­ness could not have been pos­si­ble with­out the growth of its staff. ‘There are now around 70 dif­fer­ent job ti­tles within the com­pany’, Suther­land ex­plains, ‘with staff com­pris­ing a good bal­ance of ex­pe­ri­ence, em­ploy­ees with 25-30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, as well as new blood, like our new ap­pren­tices. Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd now pro­vides the next gen­er­a­tion with top class train­ing and a ‘proper job’, with ex­cel­lent ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties.’ In­deed, staff re­ten­tion at Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd is very high, and sick­ness ab­sence is ‘vir­tu­ally zero’, which says all you need to know about em­ployee sat­is­fac­tion.

Suther­land lists a num­ber of suc­cesses dur­ing his ten­ure at Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd. ‘Pri­mar­ily, it is be­ing able to pro­vide safe and mean­ing­ful em­ploy­ment/ca­reers to our staff’, he says. ‘In terms of the busi­ness, the im­prove­ment in the bi­o­log­i­cal per­for­mance of our salmon – FCR, growth, sur­vival and qual­ity – has been a real suc­cess story, as has the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the use of cleaner fish to con­trol sea lice. The pro­mo­tion of prove­nance-based mar­ket­ing of our salmon has also made huge strides over the years, and all of this has cul­mi­nated in an im­prove­ment in our fi­nan­cial re­sults, which is fan­tas­tic.’

Marine Harvest Scot­land’s pres­ence at the Coro­na­tion Fes­ti­val, which took place over four days in July 2013, was another great mo­ment for Suther­land. ‘As one of only 800 Royal War­rant Hold­ers, we are very proud to have had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­hibit in the gar­dens of Buck­ing­ham Palace.’

Suther­land also views the con­tin­ued sup­port of the com­mu­ni­ties in which Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd op­er­ates as an as­pect of the busi­ness of which he is par­tic­u­larly proud. ‘As a com­pany we put around £200,000 an­nu­ally back into good causes, whether through di­rect sup­port, spon­sor­ship _ in­clud­ing the Marine Harvest Shinty award and the Women’s Ca­manachd _ or rais­ing money for char­ity’, he ex­plains. ‘We also make nu­mer­ous vis­its to lo­cal schools to pro­mote the health ben­e­fits of salmon. The fact is that if it was not for the lo­cal fish farm, many com­mu­ni­ties on the west coast wouldn’t have a pri­mary school, or a petrol sta­tion – aqua­cul­ture has made a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the wider economies of these ar­eas.’

When dis­cussing the fu­ture of Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd, Suther­land is ex­tremely op­ti­mistic. ‘I pre­dict that the com­pany will con­tinue to grow and pros­per, and con­tinue to be an in­dus­try leader within the salmon farm­ing sec­tor’, he says. ‘Fish farm­ing has got to be the fu­ture; 70 per cent of the globe is cov­ered by wa­ter and yet only two per cent of our food comes from here. Com­pared to the pro­duc­tion of ter­res­trial pro­teins, fish farm­ing is a more ef­fi­cient, sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tive and pro­duces tasty, healthy food for a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion.’

Above: Alan Suther­land, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Marine Harvest Scot­land Left: Jack Fer­gu­son (Fer­gu­son Trans­port), Alan Suther­land, Alas­dair Fer­gu­son (Fer­gu­son Trans­port)

Top: The MH team at the Coro­na­tion Fes­ti­val, with chef, So­phie Wright (cen­tre) Above The stand in the gar­dens of Buck­ing­ham Palace

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