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The nationwide coronavirus lockdown hasn’t stopped Scottish Sea Farms in its drive to safeguard the health and welfare of its fish as it maintains a steady supply of salmon to the market.
The company has this week put into operation a new service vessel which will play a crucial role in protecting fish health; particularly gill health which is currently one of the main threats to farmed salmon globally.
Jim Gallagher, Managing Director for Scottish Sea Farms, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need to safeguard the supply and flow of fresh, nutritious food around the world, and we remain as committed as ever to investing in the areas, activities and infrastructure that will ensure our farming approaches are fit for the future.”
Representing an investment of £1.9 million, the 21.2m by 9.3m Fair Isle – named after the island lying between Shetland and Orkney – will work primarily in Scottish Sea Farms’ northerly regions.
This, in turn, frees up existing workboat, the Sally Ann, to service the company’s mainland farms, increasing response times across the 42-strong farming estate.
Scottish Sea Farms’ Head of Fish Health, Dr Ralph Bickerdike, said: “Having an additional vessel means we can respond more quickly and be more proactive in those instances where a veterinary treatment would help prevent an emerging health challenge from developing.
“At the moment, things are looking good in terms of gill health and fish survival for the year to date is 96 per cent, which is as it should be during a low water temperature period. However, we can’t be complacent; we need to make sure as we go into the summer that we have all the resources available.”
Currently, water quality is monitored daily and fish from every pen are carefully hand-checked weekly to help detect the warning signs of gill disease. The new vessel will add to this ‘prevention over cure’ approach by enabling farmers to administer treatments, where needed, at an earlier and more effective stage.
“As with the rest of the sector, we faced a huge challenge in terms of gill health last year and we’ve made a series of investments as a result,” explains Bickerdike. “We’re working hard to ensure our farmers are equipped to deliver preventative care as and when it’s required, and the Fair Isle will help towards that.”
Built at the Dutch yard Nauplius and featuring a wide deck with 60-tonne carrying capacity, the vessel is the latest – and biggest – addition to the salmon farmer’s fleet.
Inside there are three fully fitted cabins which will be home from home for the two crews of three who will work a three-week on, three-week off shift pattern and be deployed wherever they can be of most benefit.
Marine Engineering Manager for Scottish Sea Farms’ Shetland region, Keith Fraser, commented: “With a service speed of eight knots, she’ll be very flexible and can steam between regions and move around as required. She can even travel to mainland farms to help with treatments, if needed.”
Designed to withstand the extreme weather conditions of Shetland and Orkney, the sturdy boat boasts a large HS Marine deck crane with three times the lifting capacity of Scottish Sea Farms’ other boats in the area.
It’s all part and parcel of meeting the demands of modern day salmon farming, says Scottish Sea Farms’ Regional Manager for Orkney, Richard Darbyshire, who along with Fraser was involved in the initial design of the Fair Isle.
“Farm equipment and infrastructure has gone up in size and weight over recent years,” says Darbyshire, “and we need boats that can cope in order to provide an even safer working environment for our staff and protect the wellbeing of our stock.
“In addition to veterinary treatments, we scoped the vessel so it can do grid inspections, laying and replacing mooring systems, setting up farms for smolts coming in, putting in and rigging new nets, and towing barges. It’s a fantastic boat.”
The Fair Isle will also contribute towards the company’s ongoing roll-out of protective Seal Pro netting systems.
Scottish Sea Farms’ Regional Manager for Shetland, Graham Smith, said: “Seal predation is a major threat to fish health, causing stress, harm and even death, so we have been installing Seal Pro netting systems extensively in the drive to deter seals from preying on our livestock. The Fair Isle has a key role to play in this, enabling us to transport and install the newer, heavier duty netting more easily than before.”
Having successfully completed her final sea trials in Shetland, the Fair Isle is expected to make her maiden voyage to Orkney within days, weather permitting.