News ex­tra

Salmon boss talks about Nor­we­gian in­flu­ence, at­tacks on the in­dus­try and ex­pan­sion

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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

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