SCOTTISH Sea Farms has splashed out on a new £1.9 million workboat for Shetland and Orkney in a bid to increase response times to gill health issues.
The boat – named Fair Isle – is due into service in early 2020 following an 18-month build.
The salmon farm company said the vessel should help to deliver “proactive, preventative veterinary treatment for gill health issues as they emerge”.
It was built by the Netherlands-based Nauplius Workboats and comes in at 21.2m x 9.3m, with a service speed of eight knots.
It has a 120 square metre working deck capable of carrying up to 60 tonnes of equipment, mooring systems and veterinary medicines, while the large-sized HS Marine deck crane has three times the lifting capacity of Scottish Sea Farms’ existing vessels in the Northern Isles.
The introduction of the Fair Isle will enable Scottish Sea Farms to dedicate its existing gill health workboat Sally Ann to covering mainland areas.
Head of fish welfare for Scottish Sea Farms 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.”
Scottish Sea Farms said gill health is thought to be one of the biggest challenges facing salmon producers around the world.
The company said that it has also installed environmental monitoring equipment and underwater cameras at every farm for earlier detection of potential risks or emerging health issues, while it has contributed £750,000 to two gill-health related applied research projects.
Scottish Sea Farms is one of the three major players in Shetland’s salmon scene, and it has eight farms in the isles.
“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,” Bickerdike said.
“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.”
Bickeridke added that pursuing prevention over cure has helping the company to achieve 88 per cent fish survival at sea in 2019 to date.
“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,” he said.