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Canada moves into Shetland salmon

NORTH America’s largest fish farming business has bought into the Shetland and Orkney salmon industry for £122.5 million.

Cooke Aquaculture announced on Tuesday that they had purchased the northern isles assets of Marine Harvest after that company bought out Polish-owned Meridian Salmon last year.

In Shetland the deal covers the bulk of fish farming in Unst, Yell and the west mainland around Aith and Walls, which produce 11,000 tonnes. The company grows a further 6,400 tonnes of salmon in Orkney.

Cooke are based in Canada’s East Brunswick town of Blacks Harbour on the east coast.

The purchase follows a ruling by the European competition authorities that Marine Harvest had to dump some of the fish farms it bought from Morpol last September to avoid controlling 40 per cent of the Scottish salmon industry.

Three companies were in the running for the northern isles fish farms, including Faroese firm Bakkafrost and Norwegian-owned Scottish Sea Farms, who are Shetland’s second largest producer.

David Sandison, manager of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation’s Shetland office, welcomed the news saying it would come as a relief to local employees.

“This decision has been long awaited by staff in Shetland for some significant time. It’s good there is now clarity about who the new owners are going to be and we await an opportunity to discuss their plans,” Sandison said, adding he was unsure whether they would set up a UK subsidiary as other multinationals have.

Cooke Aquaculture chief executive Glenn Cooke

Cooke Aquaculture’s chief executive Glenn Cooke said the northern isles operation would complement their other fish farm operations in Spain, where they acquired the country’s biggest fish farming business Culmarex.

“This purchase gives us a unique platform for our European operations and is a good fit with our Spanish sea bass and sea bream farming company, Culmarex,” he said.

“We will be able to leverage our global relationships with suppliers and build on Meridian’s excellent market reach into both the European and US marketplace.”

Meridian was formed in 2011 when Morpol, a multinational seafood processing firm, bought and amalgamated Lakeland and Mainstream Scotland, both of which had sites in Shetland.

Last year Meridian made profits of £24 million on a turnover of £82 million across Scotland.

Cooke described the company as “highly profitable” and expected profits to increase in the future.

He praised its “dedicated management team and employee base”, adding thet there were “many similarities between our corporate cultures and the pristine natural environments and high environmental standard of our farming operations”.

However those standards came into question last year when Cooke Aquaculture were fined $500,000 after pleading guilty to two charges of using the illegal chemical cypermethrin in Canada’s Bay of Fundy in 2008.

Meridian has also been in the news for the wrong reasons over the past few years, most recently when 150,000 salmon escaped from a fish farm on Yell in January following the violent storms.

Three years ago the company lost an entire fish farm when 12 cages packed with 300,000 fully grown fish broke free of their moorings in 100mph gales and washed into the North Sea, costing the company £3 million. 

Meridian also faced charges of using illegal chemicals at one of their west mainland sites after 20,000 salmon died suddenly in August 2010. The charges were dropped on a legal technicality by environment watchdog SEPA the following year.  

Former Meridian regional manager Graham McNally was fined last May after he admitted illegally setting nets to kill seals