An­gus Mac­Phie

Marine Harvest: 1972-1990

Fish Farmer - - Contents -

The first time An­gus Mac­Phie had heard of Marine Harvest was when he saw a job ad­ver­tised in the Her­ald in 1972. ‘I was liv­ing in Skye at the time’, he re­calls. ‘Pre­vi­ous to that I had been work­ing in Uganda for ten years as an Agri­cul­tural Of­fi­cer, work­ing with to­bacco and cot­ton. I was in­ter­viewed by Dr Iain An­der­son. At the time Marine Harvest had just bro­ken away from Unilever Re­search and started farm­ing salmon com­mer­cially.’

Mac­Phie’s first role was to look af­ter the farm, which at the time com­prised four pens. ‘The first harvest was in 1971, but the first harvest for com­mer­cial pur­poses was the fol­low­ing year’, he says. ‘My im­me­di­ate boss at Lochailort was Robin Bradley. I took over when he left, and in 1975 I left to run the new site at Loch Leven, where I did ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing pack­ing the fish and con­sign­ing abroad. I was also tasked with find­ing new coastal sites. Marine Harvest had never done any­thing like that be­fore, it was all new. But we had a great team and it was a real ad­ven­ture.’

Mac­Phie has no doubts that what they were do­ing was pi­o­neer­ing. ‘We were work­ing it out as we went along’, he ex­plains. ‘There was noone to turn to; when a prob­lem arose you just had to do some­thing about it. I worked with a cou­ple of great peo­ple: Bob Cum­ming, who was good with the pens and moor­ings; and Gor­don Rae, who was good on fish health. Of course, we were al­ways fac­ing new chal­lenges. The weather was al­ways a real prob­lem, and there were con­stant power cuts in the early days, but we just had to get used to it.’

In 1976 Mac­Phie was made Sea Farms Man­ager. ‘My job was to en­sure that the fish were grow­ing well, and man­ag­ing the staff. We had a lot of peo­ple then, and that was prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult as­pect of the job. When Bruce Hill­coat took over as Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tor in the ‘80s I used to do a lot of trav­el­ling – from Loch Ewe in Wester Ross all the way down to Ar­ran.

‘Bruce was very ac­tive, a re­ally good guy, and we worked well to­gether. We would go up and down the coast, ne­go­ti­at­ing with landown­ers. I did that un­til I left the com­pany in 1990.

‘As time went by we es­tab­lished more and more farms’, con­tin­ues Mac­Phie. ‘In 1978 we ac­quired our first farm on Skye, Cairidh, which means ‘fish trap’ in Gaelic. On the west coast the sea lochs lended them­selves to be­ing blocked off, and crofters would catch the fish when they gath­ered. There was such a trap at

Cairidh. In the same year we es­tab­lished our first fresh­wa­ter loch site at Dalilea, in Loch Shiel. Un­til then we al­ways pro­duced our smolts in hatch­eries, but due to a lack of tank space, we were forced to experiment with putting the fry di­rectly into fresh­wa­ter. I was in charge of that pro­ject, which proved to be suc­cess­ful.’

The main chal­lenge, Mac­Phie ex­plains, was keep­ing the fish alive, and pro­mot­ing bet­ter growth. ‘It was all new, we didn’t have much to fall back on’, he says. ‘We had a lot of as­sis­tance from Unilever Re­search; they were con­stantly re­search­ing dif­fer­ent di­ets. There were ex­per­i­men­tal pens at Lochailort where chal­lenge tri­als were car­ried out. In the end, they were very suc­cess­ful. Stock se­lec­tion was also a big thing. We se­lected the best fish from dif­fer­ent rivers and bred them in­di­vid­u­ally; we bred some to ma­ture early for har­vest­ing early and oth­ers to ma­ture later – it was in­ter­est­ing to see the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics of var­i­ous salmon from around the coun­try.’

In the 1980s Marine Harvest be­gan a pro­gramme of rapid ex­pan­sion, in­creas­ing both the num­ber of sites and the num­bers of fish in each site. ‘The in­crease in stock­ing den­sity meant a lot of ex­tra work – we weren’t mech­a­nised at the time’, Mac­Phie ex­plains. ‘We also had is­sues with fu­run­cu­lo­sis and sea lice. With fu­run­cu­lo­sis, the so­lu­tion came with in­oc­u­la­tion – we got a team to visit each site; it was all done by hand. Sea lice were rel­a­tively new phe­nom­ena, which was ini­tially con­trolled with dichlor­vos, and later on hy­dro­gen perox­ide. We tried wrasse early on, but the chem­i­cal treat­ment was the main method of sea lice con­trol.’

Af­ter a few dif­fi­cult years in the ‘80s, there came a break­through. ‘We re­alised that the dis­ease prob­lems could be al­le­vi­ated if we man­aged the lochs cor­rectly’, Mac­Phie ex­plains. ‘So we came up with the idea of fal­low­ing. And, along­side man­age­ment agree­ments with other com­pa­nies farm­ing the lochs, it worked ex­tremely well. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but it was cer­tainly an in­no­va­tion that was pi­o­neered by Marine Harvest.’

Mac­Phie wit­nessed a num­ber of changes dur­ing his time with Marine Harvest. One of the big­gest changes was mech­a­ni­sa­tion. ‘We didn’t have any me­chan­i­cal equip­ment in the early days’, he re­calls. ‘If a twenty tonne lorry came in, we had to un­load it by hand. The very first bit of equip­ment we got was a small pick-up. Unilever Re­search was al­ways try­ing to de­velop au­to­mated sys­tems; there were lots of scary con­trap­tions, but that is part and par­cel of a pi­o­neer­ing in­dus­try. I re­mem­ber Graeme Gear­ing de­vel­op­ing an ex­cel­lent au­to­mated feeder.’

Other changes in­cluded the scale of the pens, and the method of trans­port­ing fish. ‘I had al­ways ad­vo­cated mov­ing more fish by boat, and now the trans­porta­tion, and har­vest­ing, of fish by boat is com­mon­place’, says Mac­Phie. ‘Another big change is tech­nol­ogy. When I started, we didn’t have com­put­ers, and they are now a huge part of the in­dus­try. There were no mo­bile phones ei­ther – com­mu­ni­ca­tion was very dif­fi­cult on the west coast of Scot­land in the ‘70s and ‘80s.’

‘I am not a par­tic­u­larly proud man’, says Mac­Phie, when asked about his proud­est mo­ments with Marine Harvest. ‘How­ever, I did gain a lot of sat­is­fac­tion in the qual­ity of the per­son­nel I have re­cruited into the com­pany over the years. Alis­tair Hutchi­son and I spent days and days in­ter­view­ing, and we got some re­ally good peo­ple, and I’m de­lighted to see that so many of them have pro­gressed within the com­pany. And I am still friends with a lot of these lads – many of whom are not lads any­more.’

When Mac­Phie left Marine Harvest in 1990, Marine Harvest helped him to pur­chase his own fish farm at Sconser, in Skye. ‘It was a fit­ting end to my time with the com­pany’, he says. ‘I ran the farm for ten years; it was the most lu­cra­tive part of my ca­reer’, he laughs.

We re­alised that dis­ease prob­lems could be al­le­vi­ated if we man­aged

the lochs cor­rectly”

Clock­wise from top : At­lantic salmon; Cairidh, Isle of Skye

Clock­wise from above: Grilse grad­ing by hand; size grad­ing; har­vest­ing at sea with an air lift pump

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.