Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Smolts Arrive

On Sunday afternoon the Solundoy, a well boat contracted by Marine Harvest for transporting live fish, delivered 105,739 smolts - salmon averaging 53g and about 20cm long - to the cages at Camas Glas opposite Laga Bay, and a very privileged Diary was taken along by Rosie Curtis, the Farm Manager, and Assistant Manager Calum MacPhail, to watch them being unloaded.

The smolts were reared in Loch Lochy and brought to Mallaig in large containers on four trucks. From Mallaig they made the four-hour journey round the Point of Ardnamurchan and up Loch Sunart to Camas Glas.

Dressed in survival gear, we went out to the cages in a rigid inflatable, arriving just as the Solundoy came alongside.  The cages, nets hung from floating platforms in 30m of water, are 25m by 25m, and each can hold about 100,000 smolts; later, as the salmon grow, more cages are brought into use so the numbers in each cage is reduced.

The smolts are transferred from the well boat into the cage by the simple process of pumping them through a large tube - picture shows the tube being lifted from the ship.

The Solundoy is Irish registered, but the crew come from as far afield as Poland.  Adam, the crewman who was controlling the pumping, had for twelve years been the skipper of a trawler off Poland catching cod and herring, but had transferred to the Scottish well boats five years ago, where he does four weeks on and four weeks off.

The fish are carried in a single, large hold area amidships which contains some 300 tonnes of water.  The transfer process takes less than an hour.

This picture shows the fish in the hold.  Here they swim in the fresh water in which they arrived from Loch Lochy, but they're at the stage when, in nature, they would have been travelling down their native river to the sea.  They seemed quite happy, with only one of the hundred thousand floating on the surface tummy-side up....

....and they seemed to enjoy the ride through the tube, a bit like children in a water-shute at a swimming pool.

Within minutes of arrival they were being fed, and were jumping out of the water.  It probably helps that the sea water is a couple of degrees warmer than Loch Lochy water.

The Solundoy returned to Mallaig as soon as the last fish were offloaded.  She was due back yesterday with another load.  By the time the transfer process is complete, Rosie, Calum and their team will have some 975,000 fish in their care.

As we left the ship, Rosie and Calum were presented with what they termed the fishes' 'birth certificate'.

It was an impressive operation, as is the whole set-up at Camas Glas, about which more in the next few days.  The Diary hopes to be allowed to report the full one-and-a-half year cycle of this particular group of salmon.  For readers that are interested, an open day is being held at the site on 18th May.

Many thanks to Marine Harvest for allowing the Diary to visit Camas Glas,
and to Rosie and Calum for showing me round.


  1. Hannah Mortensen5 March 2013 at 16:26

    Well, this is just great! Tom Bryson finds it necessary to scare the wild geese away and you enthuse over a company like Marine Harvest?
    Have you ever considered that communities (like the one on Canna) which decide against industrial aquaculture might have a point? What about: http://salmonfarmingkills.com/? Or do you consider them to be just a bunch of nutcases?
    Ardnamurchan is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited and whenever I had to leave I looked forward to coming back the following year - at least, up to now.

  2. Jon, thank you for this diary entry. I didn't read it and feel you were in any way promoting the activities. I felt the report, as ever, was just observation about the people and the landscape.
    Please keep it all coming. It's an addictive read whatever the content.
    Peter C

  3. I agree with Peter C.
    Whether people approve of fish farming or not I found this most interesting and informative.
    Living in a city, farmed salmon is all that is available in supermarkets.
    How I wish I had access to fresh, still alive fish, caught by line, locally, straight from the sea, free from any chemicals and hormones but that is sadly not an option.
    As with all the food we eat nowadays everything is probably polluted in some way... but the masses of us have no real choice.

  4. Thank you diary for this informative entry.

    Anyone would need to have a long memory now to remember the days -a quarter century ago now - before Fish farming first came to Loch Sunart. Today the communities of the west highlands of Scotland simply could not exist as they now do without full and part time jobs, and the opportunities for year round income this activity provides.
    For dock workers, shipping company staff, transport firms, packing firm staff - a whole chain of activity that sustains schools, shops, health services, delivery services and so much more in the remoter areas where so many people choose to come on holiday.

  5. Fascinating. Seen these ships often enough but never seen one doing its job, so to speak.