Dawnfresh vet Harry Hamlin-Wright at the company's Frandy fish farm in Glendevon, Dollar, Clackmannanshire. Photo: Dawnfresh.

Building a healthy future in aquaculture

For the past three years, 29-year-old Harry Hamlin-Wright has being working as a company veterinarian for Dawnfresh Farms, a role that takes him to the company’s rainbow trout farms and hatchery located across Scotland and Northern Ireland. He tells Fish Farming Expert about his journey so far.

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Harry Hamlin-Wright began his journey doing a veterinary degree at Nottingham University, where he got the opportunity to explore fish health management through short work placements. Once he decided to pursue a career in aquaculture, he completed an MSc in Aquatic Veterinary Medicine at the Institute of Aquaculture in Stirling, before joining Dawnfresh Farming’s graduate programme.

“I started to think seriously about careers during my final two years at Nottingham,” said Hamlin-Wright.

“The initial plan was to go into small animal practice because I like exotic medicine. I’m also interested in population health management, so when I got the chance to join a work placement programme on a fish farm in Shetland, I jumped at the chance. Since then I’ve never looked back.”

Challenging and varied role

Shortly after completing the Dawnfresh graduate programme, Hamlin-Wright was offered the job of company veterinarian, responsible for diagnosing and managing fish health problems and recording and analysing data, as well as providing training and vet support for site workers.

Fish vets have a challenging and varied role. “Each day is different and is largely determined by what’s happening on site and the time of year,” said Hamlin-Wright.

“We have seven farms across the mainland, as well as a hatchery and on-growing site in Northern Ireland, so there’s a lot of ground to cover. In the summer, I travel around Scotland visiting the sites.

“Everything tends to slow down during winter, but there’s always something to do. Key to my role is building good relationships with site managers, so we can make positive changes and improvements together.”

Vets at home

The Covid-19 pandemic has inevitable impacted on Hamlin-Wright’s work.

“I would currently only be authorised to travel as a key worker if there was a significant fish health issue at one of our farms,” he said. “Fortunately, fish health remains good at all our sites.

“Until the pandemic blows over, I consider myself very fortunate to be able to work from home.”

Dawnfresh has just two vets, and they can’t be everywhere at the same time, so even before the pandemic Hamlin-Wright relied on site managers to provide the information necessary to tackle basic fish health issues remotely.

“You need to know how to develop good relationships with people so you can communicate effectively with each other,” said Hamlin-Wright.

“I’m communicating regularly with the sites, and able to advise/assist from home. It’s at times like these where it really pays dividends having properly-trained ‘fish health representatives’ at our farms, which we do at Dawnfresh.”

Data analysis

One of the upsides to being “grounded” is being able to do plenty of data analysis, said the vet, who is teaching himself the basics of statistical programming. “Normally at this time of year I wouldn’t have the time for things like this,” he said.

Hamlin-Wright has a particular interest in sustainable food production, a challenge common to water and land-based industries.

“As our population grows and we face growing environmental pressures, producing food in a responsible and sustainable way is becoming increasingly important,” said the vet. “At Dawnfresh, we’ve developed an effective feeding and health management programme which improves production and limits our environmental footprint.”

‘I’d recommend it to anyone’

So, what does the future hold for Hamlin-Wright?

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to become company veterinarian so early, so I’m thoroughly enjoying my current role,” he said. “It’s both challenging and rewarding and there is always something new to learn.

“I hope to keep training through Dawnfresh and see where that takes me. It’s been a great learning experience. I’d recommend it to anyone considering a career in aquaculture. Combining theory with hands-on practical experience is so important and will stand you in good stead for the future.”