A Cooke Scotland salmon farm. The company has increased its workforce by around 10% over the Covid period. Photo: Cooke.
A Cooke Scotland salmon farm. The company has increased its workforce by around 10% over the Covid period. Photo: Cooke.

Cooke bucks Covid trend as it increases staff by 10%

Cooke Aquaculture Scotland has recruited around 40 full-time staff since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown period, increasing its workforce by around 10%.


The salmon farmer has also been able to continue running its business without furloughing any members of staff.

Fish Farming Expert has seen a letter managing director Colin Blair sent to MPs and MSPs representing the areas where Cooke operates, in which he updates them of the measures the company has taken to keep its workers safe during the pandemic.

No furloughs

Cooke was alert to the threat of the coronavirus early, cancelling all non-essential travel and movement into and outside its office and operational sites on March 5, nearly three weeks before the UK-wide lockdown was announced.

“We took an early decision not to furlough any members of staff, and have not accessed the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme,” states Blair in the letter.

“Not only did we not think it was necessary or in our business interest, we didn’t think it was fair to our staff. Vulnerable employees who were required to stay at home as part of the shielding measures have been retained on full pay throughout this time.”

Cooke tells the politicians that it recruited an additional 32 full-time staff in the three months to July, adding that the jobs “pay above the national living wage and have excellent terms”.

Fish Farming Expert understands that Cooke has since taken on more employees, bringing the total of new jobs to more than 40, and that more vacancies are in the pipeline.

The Canadian-owned company points out in the letter that throughout the Covid period, it has paid close attention to the Scottish Government’s public health guidance and sought to create a safe environment for those staff who are required to attend their normal place of work.

“At the start of May we placed an order for all members of staff to be issued with face coverings, in line with the recommendation from the Scottish Government,” writes Blair. “We have provided full PPE for those members of staff who need it, implemented shift adjustments and two-metre physical distancing and increased our already high levels of sanitisation and personal hygiene to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

No positive tests

“We understand this is a difficult time for our staff. Managers are providing close support to their team members who are working from home and we have been offering weekly wellbeing sessions, recognising the importance of our employees’ mental health.

“All of the measures we have implemented are well understood by our colleagues across the country. We are pleased that no positive cases of coronavirus have been recorded.”

The managing director adds that absence rates have been very low, and below the sector average, thus suggesting Cooke employees feel safe and supported by the measures put in place by the company.

He also issues an invitation for the politicians to visit Cooke’s farms and processing facilities once social distances measures are lifted.

Liam McArthur: 'I look forward to visiting one of the sites in Orkney'.
Liam McArthur: "I look forward to visiting one of the sites in Orkney".

Welcome boost

One of the politicians to receive the letter was Orkney Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur.

“The creation of so many jobs in such an important sector in Orkney is certainly a welcome boost for our community at this time,” said McArthur.

“It’s particularly encouraging to see Cooke Aquaculture being able to recruit during a period when the overall economy is under such pressure. 

“I look forward to visiting one of the sites in Orkney in the near future to see first hand the changes being made to operations and speak to local staff about what the future holds.”