Grounds, based in Oban, beat off stiff competition, including from fellow fish farmers at Cooke and Bakkafrost Scotland, to win Aquaculture Learner of the Year at the annual awards, known as the ALBAS, which were announced last night at a ceremony in Crieff Hydro.

After completing his Modern Apprenticeship Level 3 in Aquaculture at UHI Shetland while working for Scottish Sea Farms, Grounds has now embarked on Level 4.

He described his win a ‘fantastic surprise’ and paid tribute to the managers who have encouraged him along the way.

‘It’s great to have the hard work recognised and to represent Scottish Sea Farms. I couldn’t have achieved this without the support of, first, Andrew MacDougall and Peter Coull, and now Colin Maxwell, my manager at Shuna.

‘They have all got behind me, given me time to study and wanted me to do well, as did my tutor Stuart Fitzsimmons at UHI Shetland, who nominated me.’

Originally from Teesside in the north east of England, Grounds said he had never heard of salmon farming when he relocated to Scotland. But having decided to settle on the west coast with his girlfriend, now wife, he knew it was the life for him.

‘Being surrounded by nature, mountains, eagles, dolphins, and even the weather, it’s the best ‘office’ in the world. The people are great, too, and it’s never a chore going into work. I’ve loved every minute of it so far.’

As for the future, Grounds said he plans to stay in Scotland with his young family, continue to learn on the job and finish his Level 4.

‘I try not to look too far ahead but if an opportunity presented itself and one day I got to lead a site with my own crop, that would be brilliant.’

Scottish Sea Farms’ HR Business Partner for Mainland Claire Scott said the company was proud of Craig’s achievements: ‘Craig’s award is a testament to his diligence and can-do attitude and very well deserved. We all look forward to watching him developing even further as his career at Scottish Sea Farms progresses.’

The ALBAS were created to promote careers within the rural sector, celebrate the achievements of learners and highlight the importance to employers of investing in skills.

Host for the evening was the ‘Red Shepherdess’, Hannah Jackson, a farmer, public speaker, writer, adventurer and photographer.

Industry categories at this year’s ALBAS covered agriculture, animal care, aquaculture, equine, game and wildlife, horticulture, land-based engineering and trees and timber.

Photo: Craig Grounds (far left) with Lantra ALBAS award winners 2024, courtesy of HR colleague Irene