The Nineties

Fish Farmer - - Contents -

From its in­cep­tion, Marine Harvest has al­ways been a com­pany with a strong fo­cus on re­search and de­vel­op­ment. Re­search was the driv­ing force be­hind the first site at Lochailort – which has al­ways had a ded­i­cated R&D fa­cil­ity – with the team Unilever Re­search work­ing along­side Marine Harvest, ex­per­i­ment­ing with, amongst other things, pen de­signs and hold­ing fa­cil­i­ties, au­to­mated sys­tems, feed and fish health. This re­search fo­cus has con­tin­ued and, in 2007 a new feed tri­als unit was built at Ardnish (Lochailort).

In the late-80s the twin prob­lems of fu­run­cu­lo­sis and sea lice forced Marine Harvest to chan­nel more of its re­sources into pro-ac­tive fish health man- age­ment, which com­bined in­spec­tion, treat­ments, im­prove­ment in feed and R&D. This also in­cluded build­ing up its health team, and in 1989 Jim Trea­surer was re­cruited as a Health Man­ager, one of five new ap­point­ments that year. ‘We were in­volved es­sen­tially in test­ing vac­cines’, ex­plains Trea­surer. ‘These tri­als were largely based at Lochailort.

‘This was a par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing time in R&D terms’, he con­tin­ues. ‘As part of an over­all health plan – which in­cluded fal­low­ing and sin­gle loch man­age­ment agree­ments – we also be­gan de­vel­op­ing wrasse as a tech­nique to con­trol sea lice. We were stock­ing wrasse in large num­bers, although we also tried grow­ing them our­selves. The wrasse had

mixed re­sults, but on some sites data showed a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in lice. The wrasse pro­ject was wound up in the late-‘90s, mainly be­cause of the ISA out­break, when we couldn’t keep wild­caught fish in the same pens as our salmon.’

The com­pany’s in­ter­est in wrasse was rekin­dled in 2010, when a large col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­ject with Scot­tish Sea Farms and Stir­ling Univer­sity be­gan at the hatch­ery at Machri­han­ish. ‘The pro­ject is look­ing at farm­ing bal­lan wrasse – the first brood­stock were brought into Machri­han­ish in 2010’, ex­plains Ron­nie Hawkins, Cleaner Fish Co­or­di­na­tor. ‘We are also in­volved in a sim­i­lar pro­ject at Ot­ter Ferry with The Scot­tish Salmon Com­pany, Stir­ling Univer­sity, BioMar and the SAIC.’

In 2012 Marine Harvest made the de­ci­sion to trial wrasse in all of the pens at the farm at Loch Leven. ‘Un­til then we had only used wrasse in a few pens’, says Hawkins. The re­sults were in­cred­i­ble – 100 per cent suc­cess and, on the back of that, wrasse were used in all of the three sites in Loch Su­nart dur­ing the last cy­cle. ‘They had 85 per cent suc­cess, which is some achieve­ment’, says Hawkins. ‘The plan is to be us­ing cleaner fish in all of our sites by the end of 2015 – ini­tially us­ing caught fish un­til the farm pro­ject can pro­duce enough stock.’

These cleaner fish in­clude lump­suck­ers, which Marine Harvest be­gan tri­alling in au­tumn 2014, with equally im­pres­sive re­sults. ‘There is no dif­fer­ence be­tween wrasse and lump­suck­ers in terms of ef­fi­cacy’, ex­plains Hawkins. ‘Some of our sites will con­tain wrasse, some will con­tain lump­suck­ers and oth­ers will have a com­bi­na­tion of the two.’

Lochailort R&D fa­cil­ity

Dougie Hunter has been with Marine Harvest since 1996, and worked in fresh­wa­ter and brood­stock and then sea wa­ter be­fore mov­ing to the R&D fa­cil­ity at Lochailort, in 1999. ‘It was called a chal­lenge test fa­cil­ity, where we’d test a num­ber of dif­fer­ent vac­cines, and novel ma­te­ri­als that could be used for health ef­fects on fish’, he ex­plains. ‘Prior to the ad­vent of vac­cines, dis­ease was com­bated us­ing an­tibi­otics, which are not great. Vac- cina­tion sig­nalled a sea change in the whole in­dus­try, be­gin­ning in the late ‘80s. In the early days, the car­rier of the vac­cine could of­ten cause as much dam­age as the dis­eases; so much of the R&D in the ‘90s was about re­fin­ing them, which is the stage we were at when I came in.

‘We met with a lot of suc­cess, im­prov­ing the ef­fi­cacy of vac­cines – from 40 to 60 per cent in the ‘80s up to 90 per cent’, he con­tin­ues. ‘We also man­aged to re­duce the side ef­fects, which in­cluded poor growth and ad­he­sions, mak­ing them more ac­cept­able in terms of wel­fare. Fu­run­cu­lo­sis, for ex­am­ple, which was the big­gest prob­lem in the ‘80s, now has around five vac­cines (not all used in Scot­land), all of which have no side ef­fects, which has led to an al­most com­plete elim­i­na­tion of an­tibi­otics. Vac­cine test­ing is now done by other com­pa­nies, and the Holy Grail is a sea lice vac­cine, as well as one for AGD.’

From vac­cine test­ing, Hunter moved to a har­vest­ing and pro­duc­tion de­vel­op­ment role, where he was in­volved in the tran­si­tion to pneu­matic stun­ners. ‘Pre­vi­ously, we used to kill fish by hit­ting them over the head with wooden, and then polypropy­lene, sticks, called priests’, he ex­plains. ‘The prob­lem with this was that the fish moved and could be hit in the wrong place,

which af­fected qual­ity. It was my pre­de­ces­sor who phys­i­cally de­vel­oped the pneu­matic stun­ners, which killed au­to­mat­i­cally and with more pre­ci­sion than by hand. This was around 2000/2001 and was a big change in R&D; it pro­vided stan­dard­i­s­a­tion. This was be­fore well boats and the harvest sta­tion at Mal­laig, so the har­vest­ing was done by mo­bile teams who would travel to each farm and harvest on site.’

Af­ter the im­ple­men­ta­tion of pneu­matic stun­ners, Hunter moved to the tech­ni­cal and feed side of R&D. ‘His­tor­i­cally, our fish were fed a marine-only diet: fish meal and fish oil’, he says. ‘Grad­u­ally, through the ‘90s and 2000s, we’ve re­placed fish meal with veg­etable pro­tein. This work started as an eco­nomic is­sue but it has now also be­come one of sus­tain­abil­ity.

‘In the mid-2000s we turned our at­ten­tion to fish oil re­place­ment. Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd and the Scot­tish in­dus­try was al­ways marine oil only’, con­tin­ues Hunter. ‘We were the first com­pany in Scot­land to in­tro­duce veg­etable oil – rape­seed – into our di­ets, in 2006. That al­lowed us to use less fish oil and also helped us to de­velop high energy di­ets – it was very pi­o­neer­ing. We have man­aged so far to re­duce the marine con­tent of our di­ets from 80 to 30 per cent.’

The R&D in fish feed is now car­ried out at the Feed Tri­als Unit at Ardnish, which opened in 2007. ‘We do a lot of test­ing on raw ma­te­ri­als there’, says Hunter, ‘such as soya, sun­flower meals, var­i­ous veg­etable oils, palm and rape­seed. Some work bet­ter than oth­ers. On the tech­ni­cal side, we have a num­ber of feed con­tracts that in­clude cer­tain spec­i­fi­ca­tions, which has also driven R&D. We are re­search­ing things such as fatty acid pro­files, and re­tail­ers are par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in omega-3, which can be pro­vided by al­gae, for ex­am­ple. If we think a cer­tain in­gre­di­ent has the qual­i­ties we’re af­ter, we’ll sug­gest it to the feed man­u­fac­tur­ers who, in turn, will make their own sug­ges­tions; it’s a part­ner­ship re­ally.’

When Hunter ar­rived at Ardnish, it also had a hal­ibut unit – as well as hal­ibut farms in Loch Su­nart and West Loch Roag – which they ran for a fur­ther seven years be­fore it went to Nor­way when Nutreco bought Marine Harvest. ‘It was a real shame that it did’, he says, ‘be­cause it was very suc­cess­ful. Work­ing out how to grow them was re­ally pi­o­neer­ing. We de­vel­oped flat-bot­tomed pens, which we re­fined by adding shelves, in or­der to in­crease the stock. The big­gest prob­lem was get­ting a big enough sup­ply of ju­ve­niles, which we got from Ot­ter Ferry, and a hatch­ery in the Isle of Man – that cer­tainly held the in­dus­try back.’

Ardnish Feed Tri­als Unit

The fa­cil­ity at Ardnish em­ploys ten staff and is di­vided into three units, ex­plains As­sis­tant Man­ager, Dr Ken Mac­Don­ald. ‘Feed Trial Unit (FT) 1 com­prises 44 pens, five me­tres squared and five me­tres deep’, he says. ‘These are used to trial feed re­cov­ery sys­tems and most of our per­for­mance tri­als. We col­lect the waste from the bot­tom so we can work out ex­actly how much food the fish have con­sumed. FT 2 com­prises 24 pens (the same size as FT 1), which are es­sen­tially used for per­for­mance tri­als, although they em­ploy a dif­fer­ent feed sys­tem. FT 3 com­prises twelve 16 me­tre pens, nine me­tres deep, used for bench­mark tri­als. Feed­ing is done by hand but the cages con­tain cam­eras to ob­serve the fish feed­ing.

‘The ma­jor­ity of tri­als car­ried out here are per­for­mance tri­als, ei­ther in-house or on be­half of var­i­ous feed com­pa­nies’, he con­tin­ues. ‘We also run our own bench­mark tri­als to sta­tis­ti­cally com­pare the di­ets from the main feed com­pa­nies. We are also in­volved in a large col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­ject, Bean­s4Feeds, funded by In­no­vate UK and in­volv­ing sev­eral part­ners, in­clud­ing two fish feed com­pa­nies, two univer­si­ties, a pig com­pany, a poul­try com­pany and the James Hut­ton In­sti­tute.’

The pro­ject aims to de­velop air-clas­si­fi­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy for faba beans to im­prove the eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity of UK food pro­duc­tion and food se­cu­rity. Faba beans may be grown through­out the UK and are highly nu­tri­tious. Cur­rently used for bovine feed, they have not yet been de­vel­oped for pig, poul­try or fish pro­duc­tion. The Bean­s4Feed pro­ject aims to es­tab­lish air clas­si­fi­ca­tion as a means by which flour milled from UK-grown faba beans may be sep­a­rated into two frac­tions: pro­tein and car­bo­hy­drate – the for­mer for use in feed­ing tri­als of At­lantic salmon.

The na­ture of this, and many other ini­tia­tives that Marine Harvest (Scot­land) Ltd is in­volved in, fur­ther high­lights the col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to R&D in or­der to find so­lu­tions to com­mon is­sues that is be­com­ing a fea­ture of the mod­ern salmon in­dus­try.

We were the first com­pany in Scot­land to in­tro­duce veg­etable oil into our di­ets”

Above: Jim Trea­surer Left: Dougie Hunter Be­low: The Lochailort re­cir­cu­la­tion hatch­ery

Clock­wise from top left: Ron­nie Hawkins at Loch Leven, 1996; salmon eggs; Dougie Hunter at the tri­als unit; lump­sucker; Dave McEwan at Inch­more Hatch­ery; bal­lan wrasse; vac­ci­na­tion

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