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John McCulloch is the first person to complete the NAFC's Technical Apprenticeship in Aquaculture Management. Photo: NAFC
John McCulloch is the first person to complete the NAFC's Technical Apprenticeship in Aquaculture Management. Photo: NAFC

John McCulloch from Unst has become the first person in Britain to complete a ground-breaking professional development programme in Aquaculture Management developed by the NAFC Marine Centre UHI.


He has completed a Technical Apprenticeship in Aquaculture Management just over 18 months after it was launched, while working as assistant site manager at Cooke Aquaculture Shetland’s Quoys salmon hatchery in Unst. The technical apprenticeship enables experienced senior-level fish farm staff to gain a degree-level qualification in aquaculture management while working in the aquaculture industry.


McCulloch praised the professionalism of the NAFC staff who had supported him, and the backing of his employer. “I have no doubt it will allow me to continue in assisting Cooke Aquaculture in producing what I think is the best salmon on the market. I would recommend this apprenticeship to anyone who gets the chance to complete it,” he said.

Stuart Fitzsimmons:
Stuart Fitzsimmons: "People from anywhere in Scotland can undertake this training".

Course leader Stuart Fitzsimmons said McCulloch’s completion of the apprenticeship marked an important milestone for the programme which was developed by NAFC and launched in March 2017: “Following the successful introduction of our Modern Apprenticeships in Aquaculture for new and experienced fish farm staff, we had a lot of interest from aquaculture companies in a training programme for their managers. The Technical Apprenticeship in Aquaculture Management was designed to meet that need and to provide a progression opportunity for staff who have completed Modern Apprenticeships.

Distance learning

“It allows senior aquaculture staff to gain a management qualification while working in the industry and building on their existing knowledge, experience and skills. The use of distance learning, supported by NAFC staff, means that people from anywhere in Scotland can undertake this training at times and places that suit them, without having to attend college classes."

Davie McMillan, manager of the Quoys hatchery, said that he was delighted for McCulloch. “He has put a lot of effort into this apprenticeship, as he has in all the courses he has undertaken,” said McMillan. “It will stand him in good stead when he takes over from me on my retirement. The apprenticeships provided by NAFC are a great plus to our industry, especially to the freshwater sector where a more technical and scientific approach is required from egg to smolt production.”

Degree-equivalent qualification

The Technical Apprenticeship in Aquaculture Management covers both technical aquaculture-related topics, such as the management of fish farm production, the maintenance of fish health, and the maintenance of a safe, healthy and productive environment, as well as business management topics such as financial management, personnel management, health and safety, and operational planning. On completion students receive a Lantra Technical Apprenticeship at SCQF Level 9 and an SQA Scottish Vocational Qualification at Level 4 (equivalent to an ordinary degree), plus additional short course certificates.

NAFC currently has 25 other senior aquaculture staff throughout Scotland enrolled in the Technical Apprenticeship in Aquaculture Management. A further 48 students are enrolled in the Centre’s Modern Apprenticeships in Aquaculture at Levels 2 and 3.