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Scottish Aquaculture Tour 2016

Martyn Haines reports on the 2016 Norwegian Sortland School tour of Scottish Aquaculture Following the first Scottish Aquaculture tour in 2015 by the Sortland School from the far north of Norway, I was looking forward to the return trip that I’d been asked to organise for the same week in March, this year. We had been pretty lucky with the weather previously, as the sun had shone relentlessly during the day spent on the Marine Harvest Loch Leven cage site near Fort William. On those days when conditions were more inclement, we happened to be under cover…. Would the Scottish weather be as kind in 2016?

Thanks to the generosity of industry members agreeing to host us, an interesting programme had fallen into shape. Following arrival, and a slightly nerve wracking delay due to overly vigilant airport security at Aberdeen airport, I eventually met Orjan, the course leader and his 9 keen and outgoing Sortland students and we made our way to our hotel.

Day 1: Our first visit was to the Institute of Aquaculture’s Howietown fish farm which took me back to the eighties when as a green MSc student  Randolph Richards took us through dose calculations for chemical treatment of external parasites.

This time we met Iain, the long established farm manager with over 30 years experience, and enjoyed a very thoughtful insight to low density pond based production of the famous Howitoun strain of brown trout. This batch of fish were selected by Iain to illustrate the diversity of colouration typical within Scottish brown trout populations. We also visited the smolt unit, which is a new addition since the eighties!

John Bostock, at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture facility, gave a revealing overview of the work of the Institute, followed by Darren Green and Trevor Telford who described the structure and content of the Institute’s undergraduate and post programmes, respectively, which generated some serious interest from the students. Applications to study at the IOA may be on the increase from northern Norway in the future!

This was followed by a very interesting tour of the tropical house by Dave Penman, to learn about the Intitute’s long standing work with the highly prolific and productive mouth brooding Tilapia, a fish as far removed from the Norwegian experience as one could imagine, but as vital to tropical aquaculture as ever it was!

Day2: The introduction of the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences (SAMS) to the tour programme was well received, thanks to the excellent presentation by Maeve Kelly on Sea weed biology and production process, illustrated with a range of examples from various producer countries. The students enjoyed the SAMs visitor centre displays followed by a trip round the Fort  William Whiskey distillery, one of the popular cultural elements of the programme!

Day3: We met David Corrigan  in the conference room at the Marine Harvest ‘HQ’ in Fort William. He provided an overview of the company’s approach to salmon production in his presentation, which was followed by a tour of the Fort Williams ‘high tech’ processing plant and the Loch Leven on-growing site.

Salmon farming is familiar to Sortand students and this visit allowed students to compare production methods and ask question about the issues facing the Scottish industry. The afternoon was spent on the Kames sea site with their production manager Zane Pretorious, looking at two very different farmed species, sea reared rainbow trout and Halibut. Zane revealed some of the challenges of Halibut production, as we fed fish that were coming to the feed tentatively, including the main issue which is the species low growth rate and consequently low return on investment. The boat was then taken to a cage of large sea rainbow trout which were very responsive to the feed and clearly thriving in salt water, making them a better prospect commercially.

Day4: The Sortland party travelled back from Edinburgh for a meeting with the fishery minister in Norway on return, having had a very successful week. Some  plan to apply for degree courses at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, or Norwegian HE establishments, whilst others will enter employment within their own thriving salmon farming industry. They were all very grateful to their Scottish hosts and yes, to the weather gods, who smiled for the second year running. It was wall to wall sunshine on the days spent on site, which must be some kind of a record for the Scottish west coast in March!

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