Salmon farmer tackles gill health with £1.9m workboat

SSF Fair Isle skippers Aaron Anderson and Alastair MacEachen

SCOTTISH Sea Farms is improving its response time to gill health issues with a new, purpose built workboat.

The £1.9 million Fair Isle will service the salmon farmer’s more northerly regions, delivering veterinary treatment.

The company’s existing workboat, the Sally Ann, will be deployed at Scottish Sea Farms’ mainland operations.

SSF head of welfare Dr Ralph Bickerdike said: ‘Recent years have seen significant investment in the surveillance of fish health and the farming environment, with water quality monitored on a daily basis and gill health routinely assessed by our farmers to detect any challenges and highlight where pre-emptive action is needed.

‘Having a second dedicated workboat takes this ‘prevention over cure’ approach a key step further, enabling us to administer the best veterinary care at the earliest opportunity.’

He added: ‘Typically, summer is the most challenging time of year for any salmon farmer as organisms in the marine environment grow more rapidly, posing increased risk to gill health.

‘However, summer 2019 has been particularly challenging with an increased number of our farms experiencing gill health issues that have impacted on fish growth and survival

‘The ongoing priority is to prevent gill health from ever becoming such an issue. Investing in our ability to respond swiftly with the addition of the Fair Isle is an integral part of that strategy.’

The Fair Isle, built by Dutch based Nauplius Workboats, is 21.2m x 9.3m, has a service speed of eight knots and the sturdiness needed for weather conditions of Shetland and Orkney.

It has two low fuel consumption, low noise 480 Hp Doosan main engines to power anchor handling, towing and installation operations.

And a 120m2 working deck is capable of carrying up to 60 tonnes of equipment, mooring systems and veterinary medicines.

The large HS Marine deck crane has three times the lifting capacity of Scottish Sea Farms’ existing vessels in Shetland and Orkney, providing an even safer working environment.

And for crew comfort, the boat  boast three individual cabins.

Due into service in early 2020 following an 18-month build, the Fair Isle follows Scottish Sea Farms’ investment of £750,000 in two gill health related research projects, aimed at identifying the key risk factors and how to pre-empt and avoid them.

The producer is also partnering a new PhD in collaboration with Mowi, the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre to develop new technologies for identifying and quantifying potentially harmful organisms within the marine environment.

And the company’s health drive has included installing environmental monitoring equipment and underwater cameras at every farm for earlier detection of potential risks or emerging health issues.

Bickerdike said: ‘When it comes to fish health issues of any kind, pursuing prevention over cure has undoubtedly made a positive difference, helping us achieve 88 per cent fish survival at sea in 2019 to date, despite the challenges experienced this summer.

‘Clearly though, there’s still more to be learned as we strive to boost survival rates further and ensure that farmed fish have the best possible lives while in our care.’