Widely looked upon as ‘a true fish man’, Woods joined the company 27 years ago as a complete beginner, first in a Processing role where he found himself in awe of the size and condition of the farm-grown salmon, prompting him to try his hand at a fish husbandry role at a nearby farm.
There, he learned and honed his craft with each new generation of fish, progressing to Senior Husbandry, then Acting Farm Manager, before being appointed Farm Manager of Charlotte’s Bay, Oban in 2010 – a position he’s held ever since, becoming one of Scottish Sea Farms’ best performing Farm Managers of all time.
Just as the sector has changed considerably over the years, so too Stephen has changed with it. One thing, however, has remained constant: his early admiration and respect for the fish in his care.
‘No two generations of fish are the same,’ Stephen said. “I’ll spend the initial weeks and months getting to know their behaviour by carrying out pen-side checks, then the remainder of their time on farm watching for even the slightest change in that behaviour. Nothing beats being out on the pens for learning everything you need to know about the condition and health of the fish.’
A quick glance at Stephen’s results and it’s clear to see why he believes so adamantly in his approach.
Over his last three crops alone, spanning 2016 to 2021, it has delivered an average end of crop survival rate of 93%, ranking up there amongst the highest achieved across Scottish Sea Farms’ estate.
Though as Stephen’s Regional Manager Innes Weir is quick to point out: ‘His results are all the more impressive when you consider the biological challenges that have affected the wider sector in recent years.’
End of crop survival is just one of the key indicators of farmed fish health and welfare. The weight and grade of harvested fish are just as telling – and in Stephen’s case, just as impressive, with a robust average live weight of 6.6kg over the same five-year period and 93% of all fish being classed as ‘Superior’ grade.
All of which, crucially, Stephen achieved whilst maintaining a SEPA CAS rating of ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’ for his farm’s environmental performance and consistently recording the lowest costs across the Scottish Sea Farms’ estate.
It represents sustainable farming in every sense of the expression: animal welfare, environmental performance, profitable results.
In the words of Managing Director Jim Gallagher: ‘Stephen is the Farm Manager every producer wants: he cares deeply about his fish, has a forensic knowledge of what’s happening on his farm, and he takes full responsibility for everything within his control, with the result that he consistently delivers high fish survival at a low cost-base. If there was a mould to make more Stephen Woods, I’d be first in line to buy it.’
On receiving his award, Stephen reflected: ‘It’s nice to get recognition of the hard work and dedication over the years. I’ve always felt well supported and appreciated by the company itself, but this sector award is the icing on the cake, not just for myself but for my wife and family who see first-hand just how much I put into my role.’