Neil Manchester, managing director designate of Scottish steelhead trout producer Kames Fish Farming. Photo: Kames.

Looking back, thinking ahead: Neil Manchester

Fish Farming Expert has asked individuals connected to the salmon farming industry about their year, and what they hope for in 2022. We continue the series with Neil Manchester, managing director designate of steelhead trout producer Kames Fish Farming.

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Covid made 2020 a tough year for some fish farmers. How has your company fared this year?

Really as a continuation of our strategy in 2020, our focus this year has been on protecting the health and wellbeing of our staff, maintaining quality production, and not just ensuring consistent quality service to existing customers but also welcoming back export customers as the food service industry and freight routes re-open. We always knew 2021 would be a challenging year, and from the outset approached it as a recovery period between the extreme difficulties of the first lockdown and the return of steady state production.

Fortunately, the domestic markets have remained solid and loyal, which accounts for over 80% of our business anyway so our total volumes haven’t been too badly affected, and we have been able to work with our partners along the supply chain to ensure that every sector has been able get through these difficult trading conditions.

What was the most significant event of 2021 for your company?

Since establishment in 1972, Kames Fish Farming Ltd has seen many ups and downs over the years and taken them all in its stride, so identifying a single, most significant, event isn’t easy.

However, being able to invest in technologies such as the new feed barge, part-funded by the EMFF (European Maritime and Fisheries Fund), at our site on Skye, the new 22m work boat constructed by Damen due at the year end, and the inclusion of an ambitious capex program in our 2022 budget, is a sign of the company really moving from humble trout farming beginnings to being a major aquaculture business competing at the highest levels. It is really fitting that this coincides with the 50th anniversary of Kames Fish Farming Ltd in 2022, and while recognising the importance of the last 50 years, our Future50 strategy is all about looking forward with enthusiasm, pride, and optimism.

What are the most significant challenges and opportunities for the salmonid farming industry in the coming year?

Like the entire UK supply chain, the aquaculture industry in Scotland is facing two major challenges in terms of rising costs and limited labour availability. However, the history of this resilient and adaptable industry has shown that such circumstances tend to encourage the increased adoption of technologies to boost efficiencies.

The big opportunity for us will be to capitalise on both the revival of the Horeca (hotels, restaurants, and cafes) markets, and changing consumer trends towards fish protein. Steelhead trout is a wonderful product in so many ways, and we are seeing demand for the unique Kames brand increasing in every market in which we sell. Maintaining quality and increasing production from existing operations will be our best means to address the challenges mentioned above.

Tomorrow: Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre boss Heather Jones.