Salmon boss talks about Norwegian influence, attacks on the industry and expansion
Craig Anderson interview
CRAIG Anderson, CEO of The Scottish Salmon Company, is not afraid to go it alone. An ardent defender of the industry – who sat alongside his fellow farmers to represent the sector at last year’s parliamentary inquiry, he relishes a challenge.
Right now, this is ensuring that Scotland remains at the heart of the industry, and that the Scottish salmon sector is being well represented, both by government agencies and the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), which he believes have been swayed by Norwegian influence.
Anderson, like all Scottish salmon farmers, has ambitions to develop his company and Fish Farmer caught up with him on the boat from Ardrossan to Arran, where he hopes to open a new farm, with 4,500 tonnes capacity.
The Scottish Salmon Company was holding its third community consultation on the island, meeting members of the public, listening to their views and answering their questions
about the proposal and salmon farming in general. Previous sessions have been disrupted by organised protesters, but Anderson and his team are keen to engage with the local community.
This is not, though, the toughest of his current concerns. As one of the biggest producers in Scotland, he wants to make certain there is strong representation to support the country’s status as a global salmon farmer.
‘The SSPO should be more focused on providing technical resources and driving ongoing improvements in standards to support the industry’s world leading position,’ said Anderson.
‘The Scottish farmed salmon industry is unique, with its own opportunities and challenges. There is too much focus on replicating Norwegian models and processes.
‘Norway is distinctly different in terms of hydrographic and climatic conditions, scale of operations and legislative and operational infrastructure.
‘The focus needs to be Scottish-centric, developing platforms to drive the industry forward and supporting Scottish companies at its heart.’
The Scottish Salmon Company operates 60 sites on the west coast and the Hebrides, employing 650 people, many in remote areas.
Headquartered in Edinburgh and listed on the Oslo stock exchange, it has shareholders all over the world, including in Norway and Scotland.
‘We’d like to see involvement and investment in the Scottish industry and, through SAIC [the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre], a better way of looking at what Scotland can do as a nation, technology wise, education wise, investment wise and innovation wise in Scotland,’ said Anderson.
‘We want to work in partnership [with the SSPO] to ensure a united voice that serves the sector’s interests in Scotlandinclusive, listening to and enabling the collective view of all its members, and fostering collaboration with regulators and other stakeholders.
‘We remain fully committed to being an active, responsible and collaborative member of the Scottish salmon farming industry, but our focus is creating and retaining value for Scotland.’
The company, along with the rest of the industry, has encountered rising hostility from anti-salmon farming activists, and not just at public meetings.
In the past year, protests in Scotland have taken a more serious turn, with trespassing on farms now commonplace for all producers.
Such tactics, as well as farm invasions and staff intimidation, have long been deployed in British Columbia, on Canada’s west coast, but are new to Scotland.
‘It’s an absolute disgrace,’ said Anderson. ‘Our staff are being intimidated by drones remotely flown from cars in laybys.
“Status quo? I’ve been in a lot of businesses and I’ve moving never known one that’s faster"
‘These drones are flown 20 to 30ft above our teams and individuals on the site, and film them, and it’s wrong.
‘We’ve also had divers on pens, trespassers on site, staff and fish being photographed and filmed day and night- most of the time without our knowledge and therefore without the appropriate awareness of health and safety on our operational sites.’
The company was targeted by protesters following an incident in Loch Roag, on Lewis, last summer.
Due to unusually high sea temperatures and lack of rainfall, the farm experienced a sudden and significant outbreak of juvenile sea lice, said Anderson.
The parasite thrives especially well in these conditions and, in large numbers, it can cause damage to fish skin.
‘Up until that point, these fish had been in very good health and it was distressing for our team to see their stock affected.
‘Urgent action was taken by our vets, who immediately provided emergency treatment for our fish. Some of the worst affected could not be saved, but the vast majority responded well to our interventions.
‘We facilitated visits from the SSPCA, the Marine Scotland Fish Health Inspectorate and veterinarians from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) – all of whom we cooperated with fully and who were satisfied by the immediate steps taken to remedy the situation.
‘However, at the time we became the focus of anti-salmon farm protesters when a diver filmed fish with sea lice, allegedly at the company’s Loch Roag site.
‘There is a lot of myth, scare-mongering, and misinformation and we have to live with that on a daily basis,’ he said. ‘We continually have had to defend the business against spurious claims.
‘We are a transparent organisation and if you compare the salmon industry to any other industry in the UK and the world I don’t know of an industry that’s more transparent and better regulated,’ he said.
‘However, some activists are demanding data from the salmon industry so that they can then use it against the industry; it’s an own goal.’
He said he had ‘serious reservations’ regard
ing the call, by some, for seven-day real time reporting.
‘Time delay data does not detract from transparency and allows veterinary professionals the operational time and space to enact mitigation and welfare measures should the need arise.
‘Salmon farming is a highly regulated and responsible industry with existing transparent reporting procedures and shares data provided on a compulsory and voluntary basis through multiple channels.’
Anderson has just recorded a good year, with the SSC becoming the second biggest salmon producer in Scotland, harvesting almost 30,000 tonnes in 2018 and reporting record revenue and operating profit.
He has been in salmon farming for two cycles, joining the company six years ago on June 3.
‘We’ve developed phenomenally in that time and created real value in Scotland. We have more than doubled our full time employees to 650 people, 85 per cent of whom live in rural Scotland.
‘Last year, we spent over £112 million with over 650 Scottish suppliers, which represents 75 per cent of procurement, with investment of over £20 million in developing our operations.
‘We invested £11 million on health management, expanding our fleet with two hydrolicer ships. The company was also the first in the UK to be recognised with a 3-star Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) certification, a rigorous global standard.
‘Exports have increased 122 per cent in the last two years and now account for 60 per cent of revenue.
‘We have seen strong growth in our export brands in key markets, including the launch of Lochlander and Native Hebridean salmon in North America.
‘We increased sales to North America from $100,000 to around $22 million last year and growing, with new opportunities also in Canada. Sales to Japan have doubled and growth was also seen in South Korea.’
What’s more, the company’s Native Hebridean broodstock programme has been in development for more than 10 years and, said Anderson, they now have consistent supply.
The SSC has invested £15 million in its family breeding unit and recently acquired the new Harris and Lewis smokehouse in Stornoway. In April, the company annoucned £10 million spending in freshwater facitilities in Wester Ross.
Anderson thinks the industry’s ambition to double growth by 2030 is not possible within the current consenting structure, which has yet to be streamlined in the wake of last year’s parliamentary inquiries into salmon farming’s future.
‘What we concentrate on is our own linear growth and not the industry as a whole,’ he said.
‘We are focused on responsible, sustainable growth to ensure we can build consistent, long term supply and achieve balanced production.’
His company, he said, is committed to producing a premium product and developing its brand abroad.
‘We’re going to see monumental changes in the industry, brought on by technological and scientific advances.
‘We will work with government agencies, as well as our own experts, to understand how we can continue to drive development.’
It is not a business that has ever stood still, said Anderson, who is bemused at the Holyrood committees’ conclusion last year that the status quo was not an option for salmon farmers.
‘I don’t have status quo from a Monday to a Tuesday. I’ve never understood the term ‘status quo’ in the salmon industry.
‘This is a phenomenal industry, it’s great for the country, it’s great for the people who work in it.
‘I’ve been in a lot of businesses in my life and I’ve never known a faster moving, more dynamic, evolving and honestly complicated business. And it’s our job to make it complicatedly simple.’
Left: Scottish Salmon Company CEO Craig Anderson has just celebrated six years at the helm
Above: Anderson with SSC recirculation project manager Richard Polanski in April, announcing £10 milllion investment in new freshwater facilities in Applecross