Securing Scotland’s top food export - MOWI - Scotland

Securing Scotland’s top food export

March 7, 2024

His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) recently announced that Scottish salmon was, again, the UK’s most valuable food export in 2023. It’s also the UK’s top seafood choice.

These impressive statistics are something that Mowi – the world’s largest salmon supplier – takes very seriously given that 40% of the country’s fresh salmon flows through the company’s primary processing plant in Fort William.

Salmon is low carbon food known for its healthy nutritional profile and salmon farming companies are recognised as best amongst global protein producers by the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index for key indicators that align with the United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals. The Index has scored Mowi top of the ranking for the past five years in a row.

And while the seas around the west coast of Scotland are an ideal place to grow salmon, rising ocean temperatures over the past decade have brought about unique challenges to the industry.

Adapting to climate change is now regular business for farmers, and Mowi is setting a course with key strategic changes to its business.

Tiny Things Pack a Big Punch

Summer time, with warmer temperatures and extended sunlight, are ideal environments for tiny plankton and microscopic jellyfish to flourish. Both can be harmful to salmon.

There are immediate things salmon farmers can do to mitigate this risk to their fish. Farmers can adjust feeding times to coincide with oceans tides, aerate at depth to churn up better and cooler water, and drop down tarpaulins to create a physical barrier.

However, there are longer-term strategies that can help salmon physically adapt to these environmental challenges that aren’t going away. Two strategies that Mowi Scotland is actively developing are: post smolt and family genetics.

What is a Post-Smolt Salmon?

Salmon begin their life in freshwater rivers and naturally migrate to the sea. This transfer from fresh to salt is a biological process called smoltification. In traditional salmon farming, smolts are moved directly from freshwater hatcheries and lochs to seawater sites where they are grown for 18 – 24 months before harvest. With post-smolt salmon, they are moved to sea when they are larger and more robust. This reduces the on-growing time at sea sites to 12 months, thus eliminating exposure to a second summer and the associated environmental risks.

This past month, Mowi’s farms in Loch Etive (previously growing trout under the Dawnfresh brand) received their first delivery of juvenile salmon. This group will be raised in the brackish waters of Etive and will be the first post smolts sent to sea later this year.

Area Manager Clara McGhee is already noticing the growth in fish and staff, adding: “It’s an exciting time for training and development at Loch Etive. Many staff are now caring for a new fish species which requires new skills in feeding, biology and welfare and we are also embracing new technologies at the farm, such as high definition feeding cameras.”

Made for Scotland

For the past few years Mowi Scotland has been reliant on external egg supply, which doesn’t allow the company to have the control it needs to ensure future salmon generations are suitable for the locations where the company farms.

So, Mowi has made the important decision to develop a bespoke broodstock and egg facility at Ardessie, on the shores of Little Loch Broom. When completed this year, it will offer 8 to 10 direct new jobs and additional supply chain opportunities.

This new facility will boast state-of-the-art technology, including self-contained recirculating aquaculture systems and temperature control.

The key to this success is to build on the best qualities of each salmon generation.

This made in Scotland breeding programme will enable genetics experts to select parent fish whose offspring will be most robust to the specific environmental challenges faced locally, and provide significant improvements in survival and biological performance.

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