SSF’s freshwater manager Pål Tangvik, left, with managing director Jim Gallagher and freshwater operations manager Noelia Rodriguez witnessing the first Barcaldine smolts go to sea. Photo: SSF.

Looking back, thinking ahead: Lesley Rice

Fish Farming Expert has asked well-known figures in the Scottish salmon farming industry about their high and low points of 2019, and what they hope for in 2020.Today we feature Lesley Rice, communications and marketing manager for Scottish Sea Farms.

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What was your best moment / occasion of 2019?

The stand-out moment of the year, for me, was being at Barcaldine (near Oban) to witness the first smolts being transferred from our new hatchery to sea pens for on-growing. For those directly involved, it was the culmination of years of painstaking planning, research, investment, belief and hard, hard work. For those like myself who have been less directly involved but who have been watching keenly from the sidelines, there was a tangible sense of anticipation as to the potential of the new hatchery to transform fish welfare.

It’s hugely important to me personally and to my colleagues that we do everything in our power to ensure that our fish have as good a life as possible whilst in our care. The investment in Barcaldine is testament to the company’s commitment to fish welfare; the hope being that these bigger, more robust smolts will be better able to withstand the challenges of the marine environment.

They’ll also spend less time at sea which will reduce their exposure to such challenges and enable farms to be left fallow for longer, helping improve the welfare of subsequent generations of fish.

And what was the worst?

The first ‘worst’, or most difficult moment, was learning of the impact that gill health issues have had on our fish this summer. So much time, thought and care goes into rearing our fish – from hatchery to farm to humane harvesting – that it was nothing short of heart-breaking to see the way in which gill health challenges could undo all of that hard work at several of our farms.

It is by no means a challenge specific to us – salmon farmers the world over are having to contend with similar events – but it hurt. We’re more united than ever behind the need to increase understanding of gill health issues and how best to pre-empt and prevent them.

The second most difficult moment was learning of the planned water-based protests in the summer. I’m all for a person’s right to express their opinion; it’s one of the great things about living in a democracy. But doing anything out on the water - be it for work, play or protest – carries real risks, something that’s drummed into you from day one at Scottish Sea Farms.

Our number one priority throughout was to keep everyone safe. It took a lot of time and energy – time and energy that could have been spent in more constructive discussions and initiatives (see below) – but in the end the protesters got to have their say and we were able to keep everyone safe. 

What's the one thing you'd most like to see happen to benefit salmon farming in 2020?

I’d personally like to see more balanced, contextual and ultimately constructive dialogue about salmon farming. In the digital age, it’s so easy to stand at the ringside and throw punches. Much more demanding is rolling up your sleeves from within a sector and actually doing something to address the key challenges.

As mentioned earlier, I have complete respect for freedom of expression. Sometimes I will agree with those opinions and sometimes I won’t, but I do wonder how much more we might all achieve if we were to pool our energies and work together to bring about the improvements that we all want to see.

Other than those few being paid to discredit the sector to the point of extinction, I genuinely believe we all want to see the same things: namely, maximum fish survival with minimum environmental impact.

Tomorrow: Dougie Hunter, technical director and managing director of Mowi-owned cleaner fish producer Ocean Matters.