Kyleakin site manager Kevin O’Leary expects the factory to be open by the end of this year and said attention would turn to developing the visitor centre and an accommodation block for visiting staff once the plant was running smoothly.
“Our plan is to build two extra buildings,” explained O’Leary. “One is an accommodation block for people visiting, because in Skye it can be quite a struggle to get accommodation, and the other is a visitor centre built overlooking the gorgeous view to Raasay and beyond.
“If somebody comes on Skye it’s one of the first places they can stop on the main road, and we’d like to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Marine Harvest and salmon farming while enjoying a taste of our Scottish salmon.
“After we get the factory up and running at full capacity we can start to concentrate on those buildings. We’re just at the initial stages of planning, but would like to build something that really impresses visitors to Skye as well as our local community.”
Marine Harvest has spent upwards of £100 million on the Kyleakin feed plant, which will have an annual capacity of 170,000 tonnes.
“We’re aiming to get up to capacity by the end of next year,” said O’Leary. “There’ll be a start-up process then we’ll build up to full output during the rest of 2019.”
The Kyleakin plant will employ 55 people in a diverse range of permanent jobs and will be one of the most efficient and sustainable fish feed plants globally.
It is also designed to be flexible, producing organic feed for Marine Harvest’s Irish farms, as well as non-organic feed for Scotland, Norway and the Faroes, and a range of freshwater pellets. It also has the capacity to produce feed for other fish farmers.
“It’s a well-designed factory,” said O’Leary. “We can produce pellets from 1mm up to 11mm, so we have an extensive range to suit all markets.”
It hasn’t always been easy.
“In terms of progress we have all the complications of bringing a new site together, not just constructing the fabric of the site but also various accreditations, as well as dealing with international aspects of buying machinery and getting it to our site.
“It’s been quite an experience – extremely frustrated one day, then elated the next when you learn equipment is at sea and en-route, and you adjust plans to suit.
“Like anything when you are putting a jigsaw puzzle together, you rely on one aspect being ready so that the next can be installed. So, considering we’ve been building this for 18 months, outside of all the preparation work for the site itself, we are not too far off our plan. We have started to pull together our commissioning plans with the ambition to start producing late in 2018.”
O’Leary said he had so far recruited about 20% of his staff, mainly the senior team, who he said have a huge depth of experience in this type of plant and process. “We will be ready for the next intake of employees in August and then in October,” said the site manager. “Vacancies have now been listed in the local press and on our website.”
There is a big emphasis on training and employing local workers.
“The majority of the workforce will come from in and around the Skye area,” said O’Leary.
“We are spending nearly a quarter of a million pounds on training, and we’ve been working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise to help support the training of our staff. It’s a highly technical process with a very large logistical operation, so full training will be provided to ensure our staff have the capability to run all aspects of our site.
“The training they’re going to get is second to none. For instance, the controller of the extruders in the plant will get 18 weeks of technical training, including trips to Norway and America.”
The company today began advertising for process technicians, engineering technicians (electrical/mechanical), a logistics controller, logistics operatives and an environmental manager on its Facebook page and on fishfarmingexpert.com.