Avie-more than ever

Outside view from Aquaculture UK 2024

The political weather might be stormy, but the Highland weather was kind for Aquaculture UK. Robert Outram reports

The sun was (mostly) shining on the Scottish Highland resort of Aviemore last month, as the industry’s movers and shakers came together for a record-breaking Aquaculture UK over 14 and 15 May.

The number of visitors and exhibitors tested the capacity of the showground, at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort, and this year the programme – even if condensed from two and a half days to just two – was even more packed than ever, with a new Innovation Theatre running in parallel with presentations in the Keynote Theatre.

As well as aquaculture producers and suppliers, Aquaculture UK received its share of political visitors.

Tom Arthur

Tom Arthur

Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands in the Scottish Government, was due to formally open the show, but with a new First Minister holding his first cabinet meeting that morning, her place was taken by Employment and Investment Minister, Tom Arthur.

He said in his welcome speech: “Aquaculture is a major contributor to our economy – providing well-paid jobs and careers, including for young people and particularly in our rural and island communities – and can support us to deliver across the range of the Scottish Government’s key policy priorities.

“We are committed to delivering increased employment and investment in Scotland. Our policy is to support sustainable growth, in the right places, and it will remain so as we work together to promote the benefits that the sector delivers for Scotland while ensuring protection for our shared natural environment.”

He added: “We see a bright future for aquaculture… Scotland is open for business.”

Anas Sarwar and Tavish Scott

Anas Sarwar and Tavish Scott

Later that day came a visit from Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who addressed the AGM of trade body Salmon Scotland at the Macdonald Hotel. He also officially launched the Young Aquaculture Society, a new network set up with the support of Salmon Scotland for young people to develop connections and discover employment opportunities in the industry.

Speaking afterwards, Sarwar said: “The Scottish salmon sector creates thousands of jobs here in Scotland and generates hundreds of millions of pounds for the economy.

“The salmon in our waters are a key part of ‘Brand Scotland’, contributing to inward investment and exports.

“Food and drink should be viewed as an economic asset, and we need to build the right business environment in Scotland to help sectors like this thrive with responsible growth and high animal welfare standards.

“It’s vital that Scotland is seen as open for business, and a Labour government will prioritise economic growth so that we can deliver more high-skilled jobs, enable rural communities to flourish, and invest more in public services.”

SAIC’s future set out
As reported elsewhere in this issue, Aquaculture UK also saw the announcement that the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) had finally secured a funding package.

Last year the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which had been SAIC’s main source of finance, said it would be terminating its support this year and since then, talks have been underway to find an alternative package.

The good news is that a “transitional” package of £1.5m has been agreed, from Marine Fund Scotland and the SFC. The less good news is that this represents a major scaling down of SAIC’s resources and a narrower focus. The organisation will now focus its efforts specifically on finfish aquaculture, with a particular stress on fish health and welfare.

One immediate impact of the funding changes for SAIC is the imminent end of its role as host for Women in Scottish Aquaculture (WiSA), the initiative set up by SAIC and others in 2019 to encourage women into the industry and support their development.

This was another talking point at Aviemore, with a presentation from WiSA on the first day setting out some examples of the organisation’s impact and its influence on women in the industry, both in Scotland and overseas. WiSA representatives also used the opportunity to reach out to organisations that might be interested in helping to host WiSA or assist with fundraising.

Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon addressed the WiSA event and praised the organisation’s contribution. She also pledged: “The Scottish Government is committed to working with you in future.”
(Click here to see Sandy Neil’s report for more on WiSA).

International relations
This year Aviemore was more international than ever, with Ireland, Canada and Chile collectively represented with national pavilions for the first time. In the latter case, Aviemore represented the second leg of a home-and-away fixture; at Chile’s Aqua Sur trade show and conference in March, the Scottish Government led a contingent of Scottish suppliers presenting and exhibiting at the event.

At Aviemore, the Chile Aqua & Food Tech Cluster was made up of a delegation of 11 companies, including the best start-up winner at the Aquaculture Awards, Chucao Tech, which uses nanobubble technology in fish farming.

outdoors at Aquaculture UK

Outdoors at Aquaculture UK

The reciprocal trade missions come under the Blue Bridge initiative, backed by the governments of Chile, Scotland and the UK.

“We have been made to feel very welcome,” said Pablo Depich of the British embassy in Santiago, who met Minister Tom Arthur at the stand.

“We told him about the technical advances being made in Chilean aquaculture and he was very interested in collaboration between Scotland and Chile.”

The Chile Cluster also presented at one of the plenary sessions at the Keynote Theatre, with companies such as aquaculture lighting specialists Bioled, farm management software and hardware business Innovex and sustainable packaging manufacturer Bioelements on stage.

Miguel Portus, of Chilean smolt producer Lago Sofia, which has achieved a high level of certification for its fish welfare programme, said: “We see a lot of similarities between the Scottish market and the Chilean market. It’s a huge opportunity to be here.”

Aquaculture graduate student Jay Haywood puts his robot handling skills to the test at the UCO stand

Aquaculture graduate student Jay Haywood puts his robot handling skills to the test at the UCO stand

North America was represented in the panel on “Managing saltwater production amidst highly variable environmental conditions”, with Jonathan Lariviere of US-based Scoot Science chairing, and contributions from Brock Thomson, Innovation Director of Cermaq Canada, and Matt Clarke, Co-founder and CTO at Poseidon Ocean Systems Ltd, also based in Canada. The Scottish angle was provided by Kimberley McKinnell, Head of Health for Bakkafrost Scotland, and Innes Weir, Regional Manager at Scottish Sea Farms.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the panel compared and contrasted salmon farming challenges in Scotland and Canada. Innes Weir observed that some of the problems Canada first encountered a decade ago, and Tasmania probably as long as 25 years ago, were first encountered in Scotland just two years ago.

It was agreed that new biological challenges had been testing, but the industry continues to learn, and technology can provide part of the answer. Sharing information – within the limits possible in a highly competitive industry – is also important.

As Brock Thomson put it: “It is in everyone’s interest to prevent disasters on salmon farms, because it affects all of us.”

Brimmond’s NetJet

Brimmond’s NetJet

The big reveals
Aquaculture UK has long been the venue to roll out new or updated products to the marketplace. This year, Aviemore saw a number of launches, including a pioneering net cleaning system; a mort collection solution; and an early warning system for harmful algal blooms.

Brimmond, already well known as a supplier of cranes and other marine equipment, presented the NetJet, an innovative net cleaning pump designed and manufactured in Scotland.

The new system had spent the previous month deployed on a project with an aquaculture firm that operates multiple sites on the West Coast of Scotland.

Brimmond Managing Director Tom Murdoch said: “Developing such a high-end piece of technology from initial concept through to an aquaculture net cleaning campaign on a West Coast fish farm, has truly been a team effort. So, it’s fair to say that everyone at Brimmond is absolutely thrilled to see how well the NetJet performed during its first outing on a live industry project.”

The NetJet is designed to operate along with a range of different ROVs and includes a full technical support and service package.

MoROV Reaper – with Matthew MacPherson and Dom Smith

MoROV Reaper – with Matthew MacPherson and Dom Smith

Meanwhile, another Scottish-based company, MoROV Subsea Solutions, was proudly presenting the “Reaper”, an appropriately named ROV designed for identifying and collecting dead fish from pens, even in challenging marine environments.

The Reaper has been designed to operate silently, with a rim-driven propeller rather than a jet. With eight directional thrusters, the device enables a high level of operator control and, as the company points out, with all replacement parts stocked in its Inverness office, they can be supplied to any customers in Scotland within 48 hours.

Marine technology business OTAQ likes to stay at the cutting edge and its latest offering, rolled out at Aviemore, is no exception. The LPAS (Live Plankton Analysis System) uses a combination of high-tech visual technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify the phytoplankton associated with harmful algal blooms. Faster, more accurate analysis means farmers can take action far more swiftly.

Now, the company is planning to extend the system’s coverage to identify potentially hazardous zooplankton.

Gael Force’s SeaQure Ultra pen

Gael Force’s SeaQure Ultra pen

Gael Force took the opportunity to display the latest iteration in the company’s SeaQure range of pens: the SeaQure Ultra, a steel-bracketed pen designed for the toughest and most dynamic environments.

Group Sales Director Jamie Young said: “We have been supplying pens to the aquaculture sector for over 25 years and to showcase this new 560mm steel bracket pen at the UK’s largest aquaculture show allows us to demonstrate our commitment to our customers to deliver solutions for some of the most challenging sites.”

Gael Force’s latest SeaFeed Spreader model was also launched in May. This feed spreader offers an improved float design that gives greater stability in the water. The company says the new design, alongside an improved bearing, provides for a longer life expectancy.

Ian Carr, Veramaris

Ian Carr, Veramaris

Feed for thought
Feed accounts for about half of a fish farmer’s costs and a large percentage of their environmental impact, so the panel discussion on alternative feed ingredients was a key element in the conference programme at Aviemore.

A panel chaired by Ian Carr, Global Business Development Director with marine algal oil producer Veramaris, considered the question: given the pressure on marine ingredients, why is the take-up still so limited?

One answer is that farmers need to be convinced that algal oil, microbial protein or insect protein, for example, will be good for their fish, and also that the price will be competitive with marine ingredients or soya. As these alternative sources become established and reach a commercial scale, however, they are likely to become more affordable.

(L-R) Jamie McAndrew, Kames; BioMar’s Paddy Campbell; and Aisla Jones, ASC

(L-R) Jamie McAndrew, Kames; BioMar’s Paddy Campbell; and Aisla Jones, ASC

The conference programme also included discussions on the digitisation of fish farming, the shifting landscape as regards genetics and gene editing, and how to make energy consumption more efficient in land-based farming and hatcheries.

Aviemore also saw a news of an exciting development for aquaculture in Scotland: the construction of the National Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Hub (NATIH) at the University of Stirling.

Professor Simon Mackenzie

Professor Simon Mackenzie

Professor Simon Mackenzie, Academic Lead for Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, led a team presentation including colleagues from the Institute and Denmark-based North Aquaculture, the contractor tasked with designing the Hub’s complex RAS system.

With NATIH due to open next year, this will be one to watch.

A canine member of the Dryden Aqua team

A canine member of the Dryden Aqua team

See you in 2026?
Cheri Arvonio, Event Director of organiser Diversified Communications, said this year’s event built on the success of previous shows.

She added: “The stars were aligned for a truly memorable two days in the Scottish Highlands, and we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive feedback we’ve had so far from exhibitors and visitors.

“Aquaculture UK goes from strength to strength, and we are already looking forward to what the future brings as we plan for the next exhibition in 2026.”

Watch Fish Farmer’s video highlights from Aquaculture UK 2024 online at bit.ly/AquaUK24vid

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