Scotland must get act together say prize winning pioneers

Norway's Crown Prince Haakon and Nor-Fishing Foundation chair Liv Holmefjord talk to Benchmark's CleanTreat team on the opening day of Aqua Nor this week

THE team behind the Scottish invention CleanTreat, which won the much prized Aqua Nor Innovation Award this week, have held high level talks to facilitate trials of the system in Scotland.

So far, the breakthrough sea lice treatment system, which cleanses treatment water after delousing in well boats, has only been trialled in Norway.

It has successfully treated more than 30,000 tonnes of fish, according to John Marshall, head of Animal Health at Benchmark, which has developed the innovation over a 10-year period.

Benchmark’s triumph, announced in Trondheim on the opening day of Aqua Nor on Tuesday, marks the second win in a row for Scottish innovation at the biennial show.

Dundee based Ace Aquatec scooped the award at the last Aqua Nor, held in 2017, for its in-water electrical stunner.

Scottish Rural Economy minister Fergus Ewing, in Norway to witness Benchmark beat off stiff Norwegian competition, said later that he was proud of the Scottish aquaculture industry’s achievements.

However, there is some impatience among Scottish salmon farmers over bottlenecks in the regulatory system that have so far prevented them from trialling CleanTreat in Scotland.

Marshall said his company had been approached by all the Scottish producers, interested in deploying CleanTreat at their farms, and he hoped there would be Scottish trials soon.

‘The target was for the end of this year but, realistically, it will be next year,’ he told Fish Farmer on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Marshall and head of CleanTreat Neil Robertson both said they had been encouraged by discussions at Aqua Nor with Ewing and Graham Black, director of Marine Scotland.

‘Obviously, when you’re bringing in an innovative solution, people want some full understanding and a level of detail, and we’re actively working with all the authorities,’ said Robertson.

‘We’re encouraged by the positive message from the minister and from Marine Scotland. I think there is a really strong incentive to support us from the industry, and certainly from government as well.’

Marshall added: ‘The Innovation Award has helped in that everybody is saying this really works now, it’s got that big stamp of approval.

‘It’s not a case of having to have new regulation. I think there is regulation in Scotland to deal with it but, of course, regulations are interpreted and it’s about the interpretation of how you use the current regulation along with CleanTreat.’

Robertson said they had had meetings at Aqua Nor with potential customers in the other big salmon producing countries.

‘Many of our customers based in Norway have interests in Chile and Canada as well, and the Faroe Islands.’

And many of the Norwegians who see CleanTreat currently being deployed in Norway are in the same companies based in Scotland.

‘We believe it’s a win for all, for the fish, for the salmon producers – and for the regulators, because they have expressed concern about new products on the market and their environmental impact,’ said Robertson.

CleanTreat could be used on well boats, tankers, platforms and onshore, and has proven to be effective on most available bath treatments for sea lice.

The solution also removes treated sea lice, so they will not spread resistance to treatments.

Chemical based bath treatments that are released into the water are one of the biggest grounds for objections to the aquaculture industry from environmental groups.

Marshall said their system is ‘revolutionising the way that we use medicines and we want to make it available for everybody’.

Asked if Scotland might miss the boat because of regulatory hold-ups, Marshall said: ‘We obviously don’t want Scotland to lose out, but we will work where there is opportunity, demand and less resistance.

‘Scotland has to get its act together but I believe they are doing that.’

A boat is currently being fitted with the CleanTreat system in Leith, in Scotland, but this is due to sail to Norway to start work on Norwegian farms.