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Scottish Aquaculture Tour 2015

 Scottish Aquaculture Tour 2015 :Sortland School in Norway – a report by Martyn Haines

I was delighted to be asked by Rolf Magnar Johnsen and Orjan Magner Olsen from the Sortland School in northern Norway to organise a Scottish aquaculture tour for their party of 14 students. Their proposed dates in the first week of March worried me though, as more than likely we had a lot more winter to come. I kept my fingers crossed and as a precaution ensured that plenty of the visits were under cover! During the week we were joined by Pam Ernstberger from BRASTEC, a very well equipped aquaculture school in Connecticut, America, accompanied by her colleague Elizabeth.

Day 1:  The party had landed the day before in Aberdeen and were due to arrive in Inverness by coach  at 11.00 am. Following heavy fall the night before we had snow on the ground and I was beginning to wonder whether my worst fears would be realised. Thankfully the coach got through and Derek Smith, AKVA Sales Manager, met us at their headquarters and gave the group a superb overview of the company’s activities and partnership with industry. This set the scene and provided many insights into the challenges that Scottish aquaculture faces and the role played by highly advanced digital technologies. A tour of the AKVA facilities followed, demonstrating cage component design, feeding systems and digital camera technology. After leaving Derek following a lunch generously provided by AKVA,  the group stopped at the Loch Ness monster interpretation centre to break the journey west. They heard the ‘Nessie’ story, and learnt about the ecology of the Ness system, but were left to make their own minds up about the existence of Nessie! Our final destination for the night was the Best Western Hotel in Fort William.

Day 2 :  Scottish salmon farming was to be our main subject for the day. A pitch perfect presentation covering all aspects of the Marine Harvest company and their Scottish operation by Steve Bracken put the day’s site visits in to context. This was followed by a presentation by Pam Ernstberger on the BRASTEC facilities in Connecticut with it’s wide range of ‘hands on’ aquaculture educational activities, including; Tilapia production, Atlantic Salmon stock enhancement, Lobster ranching and sea weed production. The American school has its own small scale processing facility and fish counter, encouraging the public to enter and purchase a range of products prepared by the students.

The tour of the Marine Harvest facilities followed, starting with the end of the farming story, the preparation of salmon for distribution and sale. Alistair the processing plant manager took both groups through the hygiene drill and then entered the processing plant followed by a tour of  the production line whilst it was in full flow. After bundling back on to the tour bus a 40 minute trip saw us safely on the shore of the beautiful Loch Leven. And what a perfect day it turned out to be.  The conditions were ideal and according to Doug.’, the site manager, we had landed on the best day of the year. I could relax, the weather could not defeat us now as day three was all under cover!

The group found the Loch Leven operation very revealing for a number of reasons. The salmon production cycle and feeding regime were well explained by Doug.’ in their HQ where the camera technology supplied by AKVA could be seen in action, delivering the high quality images that this state of the art digital technology provides as students watched salmon casually gliding up to individual pellets to consume them. Feeding activity was unsurprisingly at a low ebb on such a cool winters day. Students and the Sortland staff were thrilled to meet the scientists from Stirling University that are undertaking the vitally important research into the behaviour of cleaner fish, the much vaunted solution to the industry’s sea lice problem. Both Wrasse and Lumpfish are under investigation to determine seasonal behavioural changes that could impact on their husbandry and efficiency. To date, the Lumpfish has been found to be a much more active feeder and therefore effective cleaner at lower water temperatures.

On such a well lit and colourful day, I took advantage of a group photo opportunity out on the cages. The shot was to end up as front cover picture for the Educational March issue of the Fish Farmer magazine! The day finished with some light relief. A very enjoyable and informative visit to the Ben Nevis distillery. This included a whiskey tasting, but Norwegian rules were very strict and only those over 18 years old were allowed to partake, with those underage having to gracefully accept their role as spectators .

Day 3 :  The final day of the tour concluded with a visit to the Institute of Aquaculture (IOA) at the University of Stirling. On the way south the group stopped off at the Loch Lomond Sea Life centre to enjoy their collection and displays. The extensive marine tanks stole the show. This was followed by a trip to the Wallace monument by popular request, adding a slice of Scottish history which was enhanced by outstanding interpretation and displays, not to mention the breath taking views across the lowlands.

Finally, we arrived at the IOA to be met by Trevor Telfer, the Masters Degree programme leader who gave an evocative account of the establishment and history of the Institute. This was followed by a tour of the laboratory facilities and the tropical house where the Tilapia story was unpacked by David Penman amongst the many tanks holding various Tilapia species and strains, the subject of research trials. Tropical aquaculture was very new to the students and following Darren Greens talk on the Undergraduate programme available from the IOA at the end of the visit , I expect that there may be a few Stortland applicants to the IOAs Degree programme in the future.

All in all the tour was very successful and one that the Sortland school hope to repeat and with the assistance of Erasmus+ funding in the future, expand. I look forward to helping them as they go about this task, and in the mean time am indebted to all of those above who made this experience possible. Scottish hospitality at its very best!

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