The company acquired the facility as part of its purchase of Grieg Seafood Shetland in December 2021, along with 16 active farms and a freshwater hatchery.

Within months, all fish processing activity in the region was switched to Scottish Sea Farms’ long-standing Scalloway base – the hub for fish from both Shetland and Orkney – to enable a major refit at Lerwick.

The objective, says Head of Processing Operations Donald Buchanan, was to streamline processing into one centre, maximising efficiencies.

‘We were looking to create a ‘facility of the future’ capable of receiving all fish from our expanded Northern Isles estate.

‘With a larger footprint and proximity to the ferry network, Lerwick made the obvious choice.

‘We stripped back the existing processing facility to its very core, right down to adding new floors, drains and internal fabrication.

‘Then we reconfigured the layout to create self-contained areas for the key activities of harvesting, gutting and packing, each of which was fitted out with a mix of existing and all-new equipment.’

Animal welfare uppermost

Key to the new-look harvesting area, as with the company’s processing facility at South Shian on the Scottish mainland, is an in-water stunner supplied by Ace Aquatec.

‘This ensures fish are harvested in the most humane way by rendering them unconscious while still in their natural environment of water,’ said Buchanan.

‘There’s also a second, smaller stunner to ensure that any bycatch or cleaner fish receive the same high welfare treatment.’

Improved efficiencies

After harvesting, fish are transferred to the gutting area where there are six high-speed BAADER machines capable of handling fish of 2kg-7kg, with a dedicated handline to manually gut any fish outside of this specification.

The gutted fish are then kept chilled in new refrigerated containers ahead of grading and packing – another big advance, said Buchanan.

‘Thanks to the addition of the new temperature-controlled containers, we can direct the gutted fish temporarily into these tanks and better manage the flow into packing.’

Further automation has been introduced in the packing area with the addition of robotic palletisation, aimed at minimising handling.

‘Throughout, we’ve engaged the team to ensure we get the detail exactly right, encouraging colleagues to come to us with ideas for further improvement big or small,’ said Buchanan.

Fully certified

It’s an approach that has paid off, with the new-look facility having now achieved all necessary audit, environmental and retail standards, including RSPCA Assured, Global GAP, Label Rouge, M&S and Waitrose.

Scottish Sea Farms Head of Technical Andy Gourlay said: ‘Ensuring the facility complies with our many different certifications and standards has required a colossal amount of work from each of the teams involved: processing, engineering, IT and technical.

‘However, by working together towards a shared goal, we’ve achieved it.’

Room for growth

Now fully operational, the facility can handle 200 tonnes a day, compared with 100 tonnes before.

There’s also 40 per cent of the available floor space still available, allowing room for further growth.

‘That’s the real beauty of Lerwick,’ said Buchanan. ‘Not only have we doubled capacity in the here and now, but there’s scope to increase that further to process up to 70,000 tonnes annually, over years to come, should we wish to.’

For the 80-strong processing team, Lerwick provides a more spacious working environment, complete with new changing rooms, a lounge and – the highlight – its own canteen serving home-cooked food, courtesy of Canteen Manager Trish Reid.

Secondary harvesting

As for the company’s Scalloway base, this will remain a key facility providing a secondary harvesting hub during periods of peak volumes and supporting many of the company’s other farming activities.