A four-year aquaculture research and development project has been awarded up to £5 million in public sector funding.
The post-smolt innovation project is being carried out at The Scottish Salmon Company’s (SSC) Applecross site in the northwest highlands. The project will create around 30 rural jobs and significantly advance salmon farming in Scotland.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has approved up to £3m investment, and a further £2m has been confirmed by Marine Scotland.
The project is being led by SSC as part of the long-term commitment by its parent company, the Bakkafrost Group.
A central aim is to increase smolt size from around 100g to 500g in an ecologically sustainable way using innovative Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) technology.
It will include innovative husbandry and enhancing smolt testing and vaccination methods to improve fish welfare while increasing production.
Greater control of the freshwater rearing environment allows the length of time smolts spend in the freshwater phase of production to be increased. The marine phase, where the fish are most at risk to environmental and biological challenges, such as predation and disease, will be shortened. This will reduce biological risk and enable greater productivity and quality.
Ian Laister, Managing Director, SSC said:
“We are committed to investing in the remote and rural communities in which we live and work. Our investment in recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) is part of our commitment to become the leading and most sustainable salmon producer in Scotland.
“This new post-smolt technology will be a game changer and we are delighted to have the substantial support of both Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Marine Scotland to allow these innovative plans to be developed in Scotland. Their investment and support will help create jobs in the rural economy.
“Our RAS facility at Applecross will be fully operational by 2023 and will be the largest of its kind in Scotland, with plans for an additional two RAS facilities.
“This is fundamental to our overall sustainable growth strategy and investment programme over the next five years, which will transform the business.”
Announcing the funding Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said:
“This investment underlines our commitment to promoting sustainable development for the aquaculture sector.
"I welcome the new approach being taken by The Scottish Salmon Company since it became part of the Bakkafrost Group and the introduction of new management.
“The project will deliver on improved fish and welfare, applies innovation to address key challenges and contributes towards sustainability. It also supports the creation of new jobs which will boost the wider economy.
“These jobs include high value, high skill positions in remote rural areas and also add to our burgeoning aquaculture supply chain which makes the whole industry more sustainable in the longer term.
“Salmon is an iconic Scottish product, providing a source of home grown, nutritious low carbon protein that is enjoyed at home and abroad.
“It is an essential part of our green recovery, Scotland’s largest food export and a huge part of our food and drink success story.”
Carroll Buxton, Interim Chief Executive of HIE, said:
“Aquaculture is a huge industry in Scotland, particularly rural parts of the Highlands and Islands, where it provides vital year-round employment. It is important therefore that we continue to support the industry to improve sustainability, reduce waste and contribute to Scotland’s transition to a net zero economy.
“This project will improve fish welfare and quality, while increasing efficiency in production. I’m very pleased we have been able to provide support and look forward to seeing the initiative develop.”
The Scottish Salmon Company employs around 600 people across 60 sites, most of which are in economically fragile parts of Scotland’s west coast and islands.
After purchasing the company in 2019, Bakkafrost Group became one of the world’s largest Atlantic salmon producers. The parent company has already invested £50m in SSC and has declared its commitment to continuing its investment programme over the next five years to incorporate RAS into all freshwater production, as well as strengthening farming operations and biological performance in the marine environment.