SSF's Ronas Voe feed barge at Lerwick following upgrading. In total, five feed barges will be upgraded by Macduff Shipyards. Photo: SSF.

£2m upgrade for Scottish Sea Farms’ Shetland operation

Scottish Sea Farms has announced an investment of nearly £2 million to upgrade and improve its Shetland farm infrastructure.  

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The work will be carried out primarily by Scottish and local suppliers and include the upgrading of five feed barges at Buckie-based Macduff Shipyards, at a total cost of £750,000.

Macduff will also carry out a £415,000 refit of the workboat Scapa Lass, ahead of its repurposing as a treatment support vessel.

New pens and moorings worth £675,000 are being installed at SSF’s Bellister farm to bring it into line with recent refurbishments across the rest of the Shetland estate.

Associated electrical and engineering support will come from Agmatek, Ocean Kinetics and the Shetland branch of ScaleAQ.

Richard Darbyshire has reported fewer sea lice and bigger fish.

Quicker decisions

The investment follows a management restructuring in Shetland last year that saw Richard Darbyshire appointed Northern Isles regional manager with responsibility for both Shetland and Orkney.

Darbyshire, who alternates his working weeks between Shetland and Orkney, said there was now a more local focus which had already brought dividends.

“Decisions are being made quicker, so we get resources when they are needed. As a result, sea lice numbers at the end of week 50 were half the levels of the corresponding week in 2019. And the fish were significantly bigger than the previous generation at the same stage two years ago,” the manager said in an SSF press release.

“This is to everyone’s immense credit, given that the year was difficult due to Covid-19 restrictions. But we can’t be complacent and have ambitious targets to reach on fish survival, fish size and costs in 2021.”

SSF's Ronas Voe feed barge in dry dock during upgrading by Macduff Shipyards. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: SSF.

Safety improvements

SSF engineering manager Keith Fraser said the barge upgrades involve blasting and repainting, as well as the fitting of cameras in the feed hoppers to assist remote feeding.

“Health and safety standards are also being upgraded, with automatic fire-fighting equipment in the engine room, plus automatic bilge pumps and bilge alarms,” said Fraser. “This will enable the generator to start automatically if water enters the barge, providing 24-hour protection.”

The barges will come ashore throughout the year during fallow periods, with work on the Ronas Voe very recently completed.

Anti-predator nets

In addition to the £2m programme of works, all of SSF’s Shetland marine pens now have SealPro anti-predator netting fitted along with sinker tubes to ensure nets are robustly tensioned, helping safeguard fish stocks from growing seal populations.

SSF is aiming for 95% fish survival and an average harvest weight of 5.5 kg (live weight) for all its farms, including Shetland, in 2021 and Darbyshire is confident of success.

“One of our key priorities was to improve teamwork between the farms, with everyone helping each other and pulling together, and that seems to be going really well,” he said.

“With the bigger smolts we’re getting from our mainland hatchery at Barcaldine, plus the investment in new infrastructure, and the training and development packages we have in place, I’d like to think that the future will be even better.”