Over the full year, the salmon farmer achieved an average annual survival rate of 92 per cent across its 42-strong estate of marine farms.

This brings Scottish Sea Farms’ average annual survival rate for the last five-year period to 91 per cent.

Commenting on the results, Scottish Sea Farms Managing Director Jim Gallagher said: “2020 was a tough year by anyone’s standards with the arrival of Covid-19, but particularly so for livestock farmers with animals to be fed and tended to – a duty of care that applies 365 days of the year.

“Thanks to the diligence of our farming teams, the many specialist roles working alongside them and the phenomenal amount of time, energy and focus given collectively to ensuring the best growing conditions, we have successfully safeguarded fish welfare throughout the ongoing disruption and continued to play our part in keeping supplies of highly nutritious, home-grown food flowing.”

Also integral to the high survival rates recorded in 2020, says Gallagher, is the company’s long-term strategic investment programme.

“We’re working hard every single day to make the best decisions for our fish: adding to our capacity and competence; investing our money where it’s needed the most; and, crucially, monitoring the results to ensure these investments are delivering the anticipated difference or whether we need to hone our approaches further.”

In 2020 alone, investments included:

  • £1M in the creation of 30 new roles across the company
  • £1.9M new service vessel, the Fair Isle, to support the company’s Northern Isles farms and free up existing vessel, the Sally Anne, for the mainland region
  • £2.3M Hydrolicer and support vessel, the Helen Mary, to help ensure timely control of sea lice without the use of medicines
  • £3.2M new farm at Hunda, Orkney, including feed barge and two dedicated workboats.

These were in addition to a series of upgrades to existing farm infrastructure including feed barges, remote feeding systems, predator control netting and environmental monitoring, as well as applied research into the key areas of gill health and the effects of plankton.

Scottish Sea Farms’ Head of Fish Health, Dr Ralph Bickerdike, said: “It’s hugely reassuring to see our hard work and ongoing investment deliver 92 per cent average survival amongst a species thought to have a survival rate of just five per cent or less in the wild.

That said, there’s much work still to be done with regards to understanding and pre-empting the challenges of a changing marine environment – we now know to expect the unexpected.

One of the company’s primary areas of focus is phytoplankton blooms which are attributed to climate change and can challenge fish gills; organs which are vital to their overall health and wellbeing.

In November 2020, a plankton event contributed to a fall in survival rates at Scottish Sea Farms’ Lismore East farm in Loch Linnhe, from 92 per cent pre-event to 63 per cent after the event. This compares to survival rates of 89 per cent and 95 per cent for the same farm’s previous two crops, respectively.

Said Bickerdike: “These environmental changes and challenges, whilst isolated, can be devastating to fish stocks and to the farmers who care for them. The more we can learn about what causes them and why, the better able we will be to identify how best to pre-empt and avoid them.”