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Fergus Ewing, second from right, with, from left, Cooke employees Christopher Webb, environmental and development manager; Vicci Laird, head of HR; Stewart Rendall, Westray/East Skelwick manager); Robert Peterson, Orkney area manager.
Fergus Ewing, second from right, with, from left, Cooke employees Christopher Webb, environmental and development manager; Vicci Laird, head of HR; Stewart Rendall, Westray/East Skelwick manager); Robert Peterson, Orkney area manager.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has visited Cooke Aquaculture’s Orkney headquarters in Kirkwall to hear about progress made at the company’s new high-energy salmon farming site at East Skelwick, North Sound, Westray.

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The use of high-energy sites will form part of the industry’s planned expansion, and Cooke will use a wave measurement buoy, a weather station incorporating hydrographic sensors, and real-time environmental sensors to gather information from the site.

The equipment has been bought with assistance of around £460,000 from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), negotiated by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) with Marine Scotland.

Ewing said: “Cooke are championing innovative approaches to sustainably growing the Scottish aquaculture industry, and are a fantastic example of what can be achieved in Scotland when there is a combination of vision and wider support.”

“To maximise the data gained from the new site, wind, wave and hydrographic conditions will be monitored in real-time, alongside routine farm operational observations,” said Colin Blair, managing director of Cooke Aquaculture Scotland. “This enables the resilience of cages and moorings, site accessibility and salmon performance to be correlated with the prevailing physical conditions, including any extreme weather events.”

Robin Shields, SAIC’s senior aquaculture innovation manager, said the Centre would liaise with Cooke to help ensure the data from the instruments was interpreted fully, allowing a more accurate assessment of site performance.

“This will give the industry good, usable information for these types of sites going forward,” added Shields.

Cooke’s new farm will comprise eight pens measuring 130 metres in circumference, the largest currently used in Scotland. Compared to most existing farms, the East Skelwick site is in a more exposed location, and is equipped with durable, state-of-the-art technology that can withstand sustained exposure to high wind and wave loads.

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