The funding was announced today by Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, during a visit to the company’s Inverness office.
The money, more than half of which is from HIE’s Accelerating Aquaculture Innovation (AAI) fund, will support a £914,000 project to develop new fish farming pens that can be used in offshore environments, while increasing productivity and improving fish welfare.
Regulators and the industry are looking for salmon farming expansion to take place in high energy sites. These require more structurally robust pens that are specifically designed to withstand harsher sea conditions as well as provide a safe and secure environment for the fish and fish farmers.
Designed to exceed the detailed requirements of the Technical Standard for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture, the new pen will increase the current pen size from 120m circumference to 160-200m. With nets deepened from 15 metres to 20m, this will increase growing volumes from around 17,000 cubic metres to 40,000 cubic metres and beyond, whilst new integrated technologies and the additional growing space in higher energy locations will improve fish welfare.
Stewart Graham, Gael Force Group’s owner and managing director, said: “Innovation is at the core of our strategy and this investment from HIE and the Accelerating Aquaculture Innovation fund supports us in our drive to deliver a highly innovative product built on the foundations of strong R&D and close collaboration with our customers.
“Not only will our new offshore pen reinforce a move towards higher energy sites and unlock Scottish aquaculture’s huge growth potential, it will help spearhead our export initiative and enable us to create job opportunities here at our base in Inverness, and at our pen-building facilities in Argyll.”
Iain Bolland, HIE’s business development account manager for Gael Force, said: “This project reflects Gael Force Group’s commitment to innovation and research and development activity and could be a game changer for fish farming in Scotland. It will help grow turnover domestically and internationally, as well as create and retain valuable jobs, particularly in rural areas.
“We are very pleased to be able to approve the funding and look forward to seeing the project take shape.”
The AAI fund was launched in 2017 as a 30-month pilot programme, led by HIE, and delivered in partnership with Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC). It offers SMEs in the aquaculture supply chain in the Highlands and Islands the opportunity of match funding to help commercialise innovative new processes, products, services or technologies.