On the farm
THE two sites in Badcall Bay are some of the original farms and ‘a great insight into the early days of Loch Duart’, said operations manager Hazel Wade. Just a short boat ride from Badcall Salmon House, the first site Fish Farmer was taken to during a visit in early June had around 90,000 fish in its grid of 14 x 15m square steel pens.
Two pens are kept unstocked but the rest contained 6,000-7,000 fish of around 1.5kg that are due to begin harvesting late November.
The fish were moved here in May from Badcall’s sister site, Calbha, just around the corner, said site manager Robert Shaw.
The site is equipped with nylon pen nets, and an HDPE predator net, made by Boris Nets, ‘a giant cube, that surrounds the whole grid’, said Wade.There is also an Ace Aquatec acoustic deterrent device on the site.
Every pen is draped with what looks like layers of black plastic bin liners, an increasingly familiar sight at salmon farms.
These are the wrasse hides, drying in the sun (when it eventually emerges), while a second set are submerged in the pen.
‘The success of the cleaner fish has turned around this company,’ said Wade.‘We’re seeing much better growth and survival thanks to them and the use of freshwater baths.’
The health team includes Beth Osborne, the fish health manager, plus two biologists on the mainland and one in the Uists.
Osborne was overseeing a freshwater bath treatment treatment at another site on the day of Fish Farmer’s visit, with the Mowi wellboat Inter
Caledonia, using its reverse osmosis system.
The wellboat is very much in demand throughout the industry and therefore Loch Duart has also developed an effective freshwater bathing system of its own to treat AGD.
This includes a barge based, containerised, desalination unit, made by Akva Fresh, which is dispatched to wherever it is needed.
A tarpaulin is placed in one of the pens and the freshwater created is piped into it. Fish are then transferred (via a second barge with pump and dewaterer) into the freshwater.
It takes a couple of hours to transfer the fish over, and they are held in the tarpaulin for up to four hours.
A landing craft then removes the tarpaulin and the fish remain where they are, reducing the amount of handling that is necessary.
‘It’s a proactive therapy measure,’ said Wade, adding that the health team is watchful and carries out weekly gill checks, together with the weekly sea lice monitoring, which continues to report Loch Duart as virtually lice free.
Further freshwater facilities could be an option when a new boat on order for Migdale Transport becomes operational in 2020.
This is ‘definitely something we’d consider using if its available’,Wade said.
Feed in Badcall Bay is distributed from two Akva concrete feed barges, serving the two walkways, and these also run an aeration system into the pens – 24/7 during summer
“The good thing about being a relatively small company is if we have ideas they can be acted quickly” on
months if necessary, said Wade.
The company is also in the process of setting up a barge with a portable oxygen generation system on it.
It is designed to respond to low oxygen levels on site, supplying additional oxygenated water to the pens as necessary.
Made by Sterner, this is currently under construction in Lochinver and was due to be on site for trials by the end of July.
To clean the nets, Loch Duart uses a swimthrough system, leaving the nets up to air dry.The team completes cleaning the whole site every six to seven weeks, which gives them a chance to inspect both the fish and the nets.
One swimthrough on the 15m pens takes a morning and involves a couple of people. On a 24m pen this will take all day.
But automisation has now been introduced, with the recent purchase of four AutoBoss robotic cleaners, made by Trimara.
Representing an overall investment of £1 million, the four units have been deployed in Sutherland and the Uists following a successful trial, and Wade and Shaw said they were very happy with the results.
On the second Badcall Bay site, one of the AutoBoss machines was at work.
Lowered into place by a crane aboard the workboat Lady Ann, it takes about 30 minutes to get round the pen, and can be controlled from a tablet.
The operator sets the depth and an alarm goes off if there is a problem, but otherwise it can be left alone.
It ‘walks’ its way around the net, and the difference is visible even beneath the surface.The machine is deployed every couple of weeks.
The fish can stay in the pen during cleaning and they seem not to mind the low hum of the machine, feeding again within an hour.
Loch Duart also has several sites dedicated to its unique broodstock programme - one sea site, one freshwater hatchery for egg stripping, the main hatchery at Duartmore (running into the freshwater Loch Duart, after which the business and brand are named) and a freshwater loch site for parr at Loch Na Thuill.
The broodstock are initially earmarked from production pens that are doing well, and the team bring in expertise from the Fish Vet Group to assist in selecting the best fish, ultrasounding them to check for maturation.
‘A lot of our sites are starting to look different,’ said Wade. Most sites now have 24m squares or circular pens.
She has been at Loch Duart for 15 years. From Middlesbrough, she studied marine biology at Liverpool and worked for a marine conservation NGO in Vietnam, developing MPAs, then moved to Malaysia to research polyculture systems.
Her experiences in Asia introduced her to the world of aquaculture and, by chance, she made contact with someone coming back to work at Loch Duart.
She started work for the company as a lab technician and was in the fish health team for nine years before moving into production, as production controller, then becoming area manager and, this year, operations manager.
She dots around the sites, seeing most of the farming teams several times a week, and holds regular production catch-up meetings with the seven farm managers.
‘The good thing about being a relatively small company is if we have ideas they can be acted on quickly,’ she said.
Above: Loch Duart operations manager Hazel Wade Opposite top: Badcall Bay site manager Robert Shaw Opposite below: Assistant site manager Garry Trotter and his son Owen