Reliability at the core of AquaGen’s new investment
The acquisition of the Holywood breeding centre in 2019 was a bold move for AquaGen Scotland, and one that gives the company a leading position in the Scottish market. Of particular benefit to customers, is the supply chain security offered by local production. Sales Manager Martin Haberfield explained:
‘Our new breeding centre confirms AquaGen’s commitment to the Scottish industry. As a global partner in the field of salmonid genetics, our desire to produce a top-quality egg with a Scottish provenance is an important part of our continual development process’.
Situated near Dumfries, in the South of Scotland, Holywood has benefitted from being repurposed from a high quality smolt production facility, to one capable of holding broodstock and incubating up to 40 million eggs at any one time. To date, £4 million has been invested at Holywood and additional developments will be made in the future as the business grows.
The make-over has included upgrading of the power supply, installation of tank environmental control systems, and upgrades to lighting, heating, monitoring, water delivery and management systems, plus computerised heating and chilling systems, and new back-up generators.
‘We needed to create a fool-proof system with complete back-up,’ said Haberfield.
A Chilean-designed containerised egg incubation system with dedicated water supply and waste removal, was also a key purchase.
For the elite fish, a new broodstock unit has been created, by isolating part of an existing building, and a cryogenic freezer installed to store milt. Haberfield explained that in Norway, AquaGen curates a reference library of milt at its dedicated cryopreservation centre:- ‘We have incorporated the best design and equipment from our operations in Chile and Norway, to create a state of the art centre at Holywood’.
The nearby community has also benefitted from the investment, through a focus on using local contractors to undertake the extensive renovation and building works.
To get the Elite unit underway, fertilised eggs were imported from Norway to Holywood in January 2019, with a view to keeping the best performers as future broodstock. Production Manager Daryl Moore explained:
‘These are now 1.5Kg and will be kept as a landlocked population, while being carefully monitored as potential broodstock for 2021/22. All of the elite fish are scanned to determine their sex, then pit tagged, which allows us to identify and monitor individual fish throughout their life.’
Production of eggs from entirely land-locked populations is increasingly important. Large scale commercial RAS production requires egg intakes all year around, whereas traditional production methods only needs supply within a 6 months window. AquaGen’s challenge is to match the biological process in Atlantic salmon that has evolved over thousands of years, with our customer’s needs. These in turn, are driven by demand to supply the market with fish that has improved welfare outcomes and is produced with minimal environmental impacts.
Meeting these requirements with high quality eggs, requires skilled control of the environment in terms of temperature and photoperiod. Extensive use of ultrasound provides information that allows us to monitor the process, but there is still no substitute for years of experience in the interpretation of results.
Advanced skills specific to broodstock management and egg production in Scotland are in limited supply, so are currently provided by Global Best Practice Manager Joaquin Garcia Nunez, who has been seconded from AquaGen global operations in Chile. Experts from AquaGen’s Norway HQ and production facilities are also regular visitors and advisors at the site.
A small accommodation unit allows 2 people to be onsite and on call 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, ready to respond to false alarms and emergencies. Welfare of the fish is an undisputed priority.
‘The work is challenging because we are working on a new site that is being developed at pace, but we all pull together and are being rewarded by the quality of the fish. It’s also great knowing that we are helping to develop the wider Scottish salmon industry,’ said Moore.
The salmon in the main broodstock hall are kept in different photoperiods to mature sequentially over the coming months, which will allow AquaGen to supply eggs from October 2020 to May 2021. The males average 14Kg and the females 11Kg.
Their tanks are fitted with automatic O2 injectors to maintain oxygen levels, advanced auto feeders, and monitors that link to the central control room. A spare pump sits beside each tank as part of a comprehensive contingency plan to maintain the highest level of care and reliability at all times.
Fish are stripped in an adjacent biosecure incubation unit and mixed with milt, before transfer to a series of silos, where their progress is carefully monitored. The incubation unit has a total capacity of 40 million eggs per year.
Sorting takes place using a MASKON fish egg sorter, a system that AquaGen knows well, having helped to design the first prototype. The machine takes up to six images of each egg, and classifies their quality based on criteria including unfertilized, size, coagulations, pin eyes, and dead eggs.
Eggs will be ready for shipment to customers from October 2020, when Moore is looking forward to celebrating his second year with the company.
‘It has been a busy couple of years, moving into a hatchery that had been empty for some time, remodelling, renovating and rebuilding, keeping fish happy while all this was going on, and getting to grips with new technologies. However, we have an excellent team who are learning fast on all aspects of operations. The next exciting part is just around the corner, when we start shipping more Scottish produced eggs to our Scottish customers’.
Featured image; Farming Technician Alex Kulczyk holding a male broodfish.
1. Main broodstock hall
2. Farming Technician Will McDonald ultrasounding broodfish
3. Broodstock settled well into their tanks at Holywood
4. Ultrasounding image