Salmon farmer Scottish Sea Farms (SSF) is investing nearly £2 million in upgrading its Shetland operations.
The company said yesterday the project would also better equip it for achieving better levels of fish welfare and survival. Improvement works will be carried out “primarily by Scottish and local suppliers”, the Stirling-based firm added.
Five feed barges for the Shetland operations are being upgraded by Buckie-based Macduff Shipyards at a total cost of £750,000.
The workboat Scapa Lass is undergoing a £415,000 refit, also at Macduff, ahead of its repurposing as a treatment support vessel.
New pens and moorings worth £675,000 are being installed at the company’s Bellister farm to bring it into line with recent refurbishments across the rest of the Shetland estate.
Associated electrical and engineering support will be delivered by Shetland firms Agmatek and Ocean Kinetics, as well as the Shetland branch of ScaleAQ.
The investment follows an SSF management restructuring last year that saw Richard Darbyshire appointed Northern Isles regional boss with responsibility for both Shetland and Orkney.
Mr Darbyshire, who alternates his working weeks between Shetland and Orkney, said there was now a more local focus which had already brought dividends.
He added: “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.
“This is to everyone’s immense credit, given 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.”
Engineering manager Keith Fraser said the barge upgrades involved blasting and repainting, as well as fitting cameras in the feed hoppers to assist remote feeding.
Mr Fraser added: “Health and safety standards are also being upgraded, with automatic fire-fighting equipment in the engine room, plus automatic bilge pumps and alarms.
“This will enable the generator to start automatically if water enters the barge, providing 24-hour protection.”
In addition to the near-£2m programme of works, all of the firm’s Shetland marine pens now have anti-predator netting, helping safeguard fish stocks from growing seal populations.
SSF said its ambition for Shetland this year was the same for all its locations – 95% fish survival and an average harvest weight of 5.5 kilos (just over 12lbs).
Mr Darbyshire added: “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.
“With the bigger smolts we’re getting from our mainland hatchery at Barcaldine (near Oban), plus the investment in new infrastructure, and the training and development packages we have in place, I’d like to think the future will be even better.”
SSF is owned by Norwegian firms Leroy Seafood Group and Salmar. Its operations include hatcheries and fish farms on the west coast and in Orkney and Shetland, as well as processing plants in South Shian, Argyll, and Scalloway, Shetland.