Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Harvesting the Salmon at Camas Glas

We were invited by Rosie Curtis, the manager at the Marine Harvest salmon farm at Camas Glas, to see the fish we've been following in the final stage in the production process, the harvesting.  We've been out twice before, to see the fish arrive, and then last October to watch them being graded - post here.  So Monday's was an exciting visit.

As we approach Camas Glas, the well boat, Ronja Commander, was moving steadily up Loch Sunart towards the cages - she's seen here passing Carna.  She was due alongside the pens at 2.00pm.

There are sixteen pens arranged in two groups.  Last October, the biggest fish were moved into the western group, and it was one of these pens that was being emptied.  It contained 32,000 salmon, and the Commander was taking away half of them.  Almost as soon as she'd moored, she....

....deployed what looked like two huge vacuum tubes, used to suck the salmon out of the pen and into her two tanks, one to starboard and the other to port.  As the fish come aboard they are both counted and weighed.

The captain of the Commander was kind enough to invite us onto the bridge.  Olaf i Gardastovu comes from the Faroe Islands, has been at sea for twenty years, and has been working well boats in Scottish waters for over four years. He works six hours on and six off, and four weeks on and four weeks off.  When asked whether the very poor winter weather had affected his ship's operations, he told us that only two sailings had been cancelled, one in October and one in December.

As the pumps began to draw the salmon into the well boat's tanks, winches hauled the net, held up by yellow buoys, towards the ship, enabling us to see them.  The fish currently leaving the three farms in Loch Sunart, some 1,000 tonnes of them, are the first that Marine Harvest have produced using no chemicals to control sea lice.  This job has been done in a much more natural way by a small army of wrasse - see the October post - and the experiment has been very successful.  And the wrasse haven't finished their work: they'll be here to do the job again when the next batch off salmon smolts arrive later this year.

So that the salmon didn't become distressed, a hose, seen to the right, pumps bubbles of oxygen into the water around the fish.  Once the fish have been loaded, the Commander takes them to Mallaig, where they're off-loaded, killed, and bled.  From there they go to Fort William to be gutted, cleaned and boxed.  While many go abroad - salmon is now a major export earner for Scotland - some will be sold across the UK.  For example, Sainsbury's sell them as Loch Sunart salmon under their Freedom Foods label.

The team are proud of their achievement and, to celebrate, posed for a photo with one of their fish.  While the average weight of what was going aboard the Ronja Commander was 5.7kg, this beauty weighed in at over 6.5kg.

From left to right: assistant manager Calum MacPhail, John MacRae, Joe MacLeod, Jon Crosbie, manager Rosie Curtis, and Steve Canning.

Many thanks to Rosie and her team for their hospitality.


  1. Really interesting, having followed your blog on this topic over the months and seen the Ronja Commander on numerous occasions when visiting west Ardnamurchan.

  2. why are they not available to buy locally ? have you seen the price of food in the ferry stores ? How can people on holiday possibly afford to travel to this area with the price of fuel and then be forced to buy low quality food in the stores.?. You could feed a family of four for a week easily on that prize catch,Where do we buy it then ??? or should we all pop down to the local sainsburys store ?