Sir Iain An­der­son

Marine Harvest: 1977-1979

Fish Farmer - - Contents -

IIain An­der­son was in­volved with Marine Harvest al­most from the start, join­ing Unilever Re­search in 1965. ‘I have a back­ground in marine science and mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy, and at the time I was work­ing for the US Gov­ern­ment do­ing marine science work’, he ex­plains. ‘Unilever con­tacted me and asked if I would con­sider re­turn­ing to the UK to join Unilever Re­search.’ As An­der­son ex­plains, at the time Unilever had a big com­mit­ment to fish­ing, which in­cluded the largest trawler fleet in Europe. How­ever, look­ing for­ward they were aware of di­min­ish­ing wild fish stocks and had taken a strate­gic de­ci­sion to in­ves­ti­gate aqua­cul­ture on a broad front. ‘They ex­per­i­mented with marine fish and crus­taceans, both at Aberdeen and fur­ther south, at Fin­don. In 1965 they bought the Vik broth­ers’ patent for the process for ac­cli­ma­tis­ing rain­bow trout from fresh­wa­ter to sea wa­ter, with the idea of grow­ing very big rain­bow trout in sea wa­ter. ‘To this end the site at Lochailort – which gave them ac­cess to fresh and sea wa­ter – was ac­quired, and a sep­a­rate en­tity, Marine Harvest, was es­tab­lished’, An­der­son con­tin­ues. ‘Along­side rain­bow trout, Marine Harvest also had a few parr from the hatch­ery at In­ver­garry, run by the Scot­tish Hy­dro Board.’ Ini­tially, An­der­son was not in­volved with the Marine Harvest pro­ject. ‘My first re­mit was to con­duct re­search and sup­port the aqua­cul­ture pro­gramme from the point of view of fish hus­bandry and dis­ease, and I was largely based in Aberdeen.

‘How­ever, not long af­ter Lochailort was set up, Marine Harvest ran into dis­ease prob­lems, and they con­tacted me to help. That es­tab­lished a work­ing link be­tween Marine Harvest

and Unilever Re­search, and by 1968 Unilever Re­search had pretty much taken over man­age­ment re­spon­si­bil­ity for the day to day run­ning of Lochailort and in the same year I was asked to lead the de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme there.’

It wasn’t long be­fore it be­came clear that the po­ten­tial for salmonid farm­ing in Scot­land far out­stripped that of any other species, and that salmon farm­ing made more com­mer­cial sense than farm­ing rain­bow trout. ‘In terms of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence, the de­vel­op­ment of salmonid farm­ing was far more ad­vanced than hal­ibut, tur­bot, dover sole and prawns, which were some of the high value species Unilever Re­search was ex­per­i­ment­ing with’, An­der­son ex­plains. ‘And the price we were get­ting for our salmon was a lot more than for our rain­bow trout.’

What also be­came clear to ev­ery­one work­ing at Lochailort was the qual­ity of their fish. ‘I have a pho­to­graph of two of the first fully grown salmon re­moved from the pens at Lochailort, in 1971 – big, beau­ti­ful fish, around five ki­los. And, be­cause we were able to pro­duce a few, the word was out that Marine Harvest, Unilever, was on to some­thing.’

An­der­son laughs when he re­calls a con­fer­ence pa­per he gave to the Salmon and Trout As­so­ci­a­tion in 1973. ‘We were pre­pared to talk about what we were do­ing, and the pa­per dis­cussed the usual is­sues re­gard­ing dis­ease, nutri­tion, en­gi­neer­ing, and that we still had a long way to go. How­ever, I also made a forecast about the fu­ture, say­ing: “Nev­er­the­less, a ten thou­sand tonne an­nual out­put is not in my mind out of the ques­tion.” It seems laugh­able now, but at the time pro­duced au­di­ble gasps from the au­di­ence.’

An­der­son has no doubt that they were pioneers, they were do­ing some­thing that had never been done in Scot­land be­fore. ‘I re­mem­ber vis­it­ing the salmon lab­o­ra­tory at Faskally’, An­der­son re­calls, ‘where they told me that farm­ing salmon could not be done, that they couldn’t be kept in cap­tiv­ity. But I just didn’t be­lieve them and car­ried on re­gard­less. I think pio-

neers re­quire cer­tain dis­re­spect for au­thor­ity, to be pre­pared to go against the grain, against the best avail­able ad­vice of the day.’ How­ever, he does con­cede that, whilst they were pioneers, in terms of pro­duc­tion the Nor­we­gians were just ahead of them, ‘although their ap­proach was dif­fer­ent’, he says. ‘They were farm­ing salmon be­hind a con­crete bar­rier in the head of a sealed-off fjord. How­ever, we did pi­o­neer the idea of mov­ing farms around in float­ing pens, and we also iden­ti­fied early on the im­por­tance of au­to­mated feed­ing sys­tems, and we tried out a num­ber of dif­fer­ent de­vices.’

As An­der­son re­calls, there were a num­ber of chal­lenges dur­ing these early days. ‘Ev­ery year brought new prob­lems to over­come’, he ex­plains. ‘Dis­ease was al­ways an is­sue; we didn’t have the dis­ease un­der­stand­ing, vac­cines, or op­er­a­tional ca­pac­ity that we have now. Another chal­lenge was find­ing the right nutri­tion for the ws when they were put to sea. There was noth­ing avail­able, and we lacked the ba­sic sci­en­tific knowl­edge, so we were con­stantly test­ing dif­fer­ent for­mu­la­tions, and dif­fer­ent types of feed.

‘En­gi­neer­ing was also un­known ter­ri­tory; we had a lot of prob­lems with pens and moor­ings early on. Of course there was no pe­riph­eral in­dus­try struc­ture; we were cov­er­ing a num­ber of dis­ci­plines with­out any out­side ex­perts to ad­vise us. But what we did have was a great team – Dr Tom Lit­tle, my boss when I ar­rived in 1965, was an in­spir­ing leader of our fish farm­ing ef­forts. Drew Craw­ford, Robin Bradley, Don Marr, Max Keith, Alis­tair Hutchi­son and An­gus Mac­Phie are just a few who made im­por­tant

con­tri­bu­tions – ev­ery­one worked day and night, we didn’t take hol­i­days; we were run­ning on adrenalin most of the time.’

An­der­son also ac­knowl­edges that a lot of Marine Harvest’s early suc­cess was down to the role played by the High­lands and Is­lands De­vel­op­ment Board (HIDB) – now the HIE. ‘They had a phe­nom­e­nal char­ter and granted a lot of money to ven­tures that helped to de­velop the high­land econ­omy’, he ex­plains. ‘We were cre­at­ing jobs and boost­ing the economies of frag­ile, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, so they gave us some money. But it was the po­lit­i­cal lever­age we gained from their sup­port that prob­a­bly ben­e­fited us the most. And now look what’s hap­pened; how many thou­sands of peo­ple in ru­ral Scot­land who are di­rectly and in­di­rectly em­ployed by fish farm­ing.’

In the early ‘70s An­der­son was given re­spon­si­bil­ity for look­ing af­ter Unilever’s en­tire fish R&D pro­gramme, of which aqua­cul­ture was just a part. Then, in 1977 he was asked to leave re­search al­to­gether and run Marine Harvest, which at the time was still be­ing run from a cou­ple of of­fices in Lon­don by Harry Howard, Marine Harvest’s first MD, and Bill MacLeod, who was re­spon­si­ble for ex­plor­ing mar­ket­ing op­tions for farmed fish. ‘By then it was felt that we re­ally had some­thing, and the com­pany was be­gin­ning to at­tract wider at­ten­tion; for me, it was the Duke of Ed­in­burgh’s visit in 1974 that sig­nalled Marine Harvest’s ar­rival on the map.’

An­der­son made the de­ci­sion to re­lo­cate the head of­fice in Scot­land, at Craigcrook Castle, in Ed­in­burgh, where he worked along­side An­gus Mor­gan, Peter Crook, Bruce Hill­coat and oth­ers. ‘It was a great move, for many rea­sons’, says An­der­son. ‘Pri­mar­ily, it was the es­tab­lish­ment of Marine Harvest as a more se­ri­ous com­pany in Scot­land. The sec­ond half of the Sev­en­ties was a re­ally vi­brant time, and I loved ev­ery minute of it. I had the dream job, with no resid­ual de­sire to do any­thing else. How­ever, in 1979, I was torn from Marine Harvest and placed in the fac­to­ries of Mersey­side, where I bat­tled for Unilever against bel­liger­ent union­ism.’

There is an ironic twist to An­der­son’s story. In 1987 he was asked to join the Unilever Board, as Di­rec­tor of Strat­egy. ‘Around this time, the de­ci­sion was made to fo­cus on fast mov­ing con­sumer goods’, ex­plains An­der­son. ‘This meant that its oper­a­tions in agribusi­ness no longer fit­ted into Unilever’s vi­sion. I was the guy that ad­vised the Board that this meant we must sell Marine Harvest.’

An­der­son is ex­tremely proud of what he, and the other early pioneers achieved. ‘The fact is that Marine Harvest started from noth­ing, and even though the ex­perts of the day said its vi­sion for salmon farm­ing was im­pos­si­ble’, it has be­come a world leader in a huge global in­dus­try. ‘Yes, we had set­backs, and we made some mis­takes – but there is never a straight line to glory.’

Op­po­site: Sir Iain An­der­son Be­low: Two of the first salmon from the first harvest at Lochailort in 1971 Be­low right: Rain­bow trout

Top: Inch­more hatch­ery, es­tab­lished 1978 Be­low: Craigcrook Castle

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