Scottish Sea Farms, the producer of responsibly-farmed salmon, is seeing one of its current crops outperform all previous years following the introduction of new anti-sea lice shields.
The shields are the latest in a series of proactive measures by the company to enhance the health and welfare of the salmon under its care.
Specially engineered to suit Scottish marine conditions, each shield consists of a permeable fabric that lets water and oxygen move freely into fish pens whilst keeping natural health threats out.
The new shields were first introduced at the company’s farm at Slocka, Ronas Voe on Shetland in May 2017. In the nine months since, sea lice levels have successfully remained below the Marine Scotland Code of Good Practice threshold, and the salmon are showing strong growth and biological performance.
Such has been the effectiveness of the shields that Scottish Sea Farms has now invested over £800,000 with two Scottish suppliers – William Milne Tarpaulins in Aberdeen and W&J Knox in Ayrshire – in order to roll-out similar protection to 11 of its other farms.
The company is also working with neighbouring salmon growers to synchronise use of the shields, as part of a farm management agreement for those same areas.
Jim Gallagher, managing director of Scottish Sea Farms, said: “We strive, wherever possible, to replicate the natural conditions that salmon are known to thrive in. As any farmer will understand however, this comes with its own risks as the marine environment presents new challenges all the time. We are continually exploring and investing in new ways of dealing with these challenges, and it’s hugely encouraging to see positive early results such as these at our trial project in Shetland.”
This latest advance is part of a wider £11.8m investment in 2017 by the company to enhance the health and welfare of its salmon – over 85% of which is being spent on non-medicinal approaches.
In turn, the need to administer medicines has significantly reduced, with six of the company’s farms requiring no sea lice interventions at all during 2017.
With the UN reporting that the last three years were the hottest ever on record, and Scotland’s rising sea temperatures resulting in new planktonic organisms that are potentially harmful to the health of fish gills, the company has also invested approximately £200,000 in state-of-the-art environmental data monitoring equipment, as well as over £260,000 on new underwater camera systems.
Says Ralph Bickerdike, head of fish health and welfare at Scottish Sea Farms: “Even a seemingly slight increase in sea water temperatures of 0.5 degrees can have an impact on the marine environment. This new data monitoring equipment is enabling real-time analysis of key markers such as salinity and oxygen concentration, helping us to make informed decisions to maintain high standards of welfare for the fish under our care.
“Complementing this, the new underwater cameras enable us to observe the fish within the pens and respond swiftly should there be any changes in their natural behaviour.”