Sector awards typically recognise those working on the front line of salmon farming, be it freshwater or marine.

This year’s Aquaculture Awards, however, saw judges break with convention, helping raise the profile of so-called ‘support services’.

‘Unsung hero’

Scottish Sea Farms Head of Fish Health Dr Ralph Bickerdike was named ‘Unsung Hero’ for his work linking nutrition to fish health.

Bickerdike, who gained a BSc (Hons) in Marine Biology at Plymouth University and PhD in Biology/Biochemistry at the University of St Andrews, first put his findings into practice as a Post-Doctoral Researcher with the Fish Muscle Research Group, also at St Andrews.

It was there that he caught the eye of one of the project partners, feed giants BioMar, moving from academia to the aquaculture sector where, for the next 12 years, he would focus on the connection between fish feed and fish health, helping bring into being several of the leading products on offer today.

Little surprise then that salmon producer Scottish Sea Farms approached Bickerdike in 2016 with a view to bringing his expertise in-house.

Scottish Sea Farms Managing Director Jim Gallagher said: “From my first meeting with Ralph it was clear how much he cared about nutrition, fish health and helping farmers do the very best by the livestock in their care.

“I felt he could make an even bigger difference working directly for us, and without doubt he has.”

Eight years on, Bickerdike now leads a team of 13, including four in-house vets. His remit extends far beyond simply feed, helping bring about key advances such as the use of cleaner fish, freshwater treatments and water quality surveillance, along with ongoing work to establish a secure supply of Scottish broodstock.

Most recently, he’s been part of project group to deliver a new incubation unit, enabling eggs to be received pre-fertilisation and, in turn, giving more control over key welfare factors earlier in the fish lifecycle.

‘Rising Star’

Also recognised at the Aquaculture Awards 2024 was Scottish Sea Farms IT Engineer David Lipcsey who was named joint winner of the Rising Star category, alongside MOWI Scotland’s Silvia Viale.

Lipcsey received the award for his work leading the integration of ex-Grieg Seafood Shetland systems following its acquisition in 2021.

This included replacing inherited hatchery IT with all-new infrastructure; transitioning ex-Grieg farms away from centralised feeding to Scottish Sea Farms’ preferred approach of individual farm feeding; and integrating the networks of two separate processing facilities, to name just a few key projects.

Scottish Sea Farms IT Operations and Infrastructure Leader Colin Kupris said: “It wasn’t just the complexity of the projects completed that impressed. It was also the sheer number of competing projects that David coped with, all in his customary unflappable manner.

“Every new farm, barge, facility and face – David has been our ‘boots on the ground’ for each. I think just about every new colleague will have interacted with him at some stage of the transition process.

“Quite simply, without him we couldn’t have achieved what we have.”

Photo courtesy of Diversified Communications