One of just four remaining local salmon farms, Uyeasound Salmon, has been sold to the Polish-Norwegian company Lakeland Unst in a £3 million deal.
The family-owned firm survived 27 years in the turbulent industry, producing some of the best quality fish while avoiding the sea lice problem which has plagued farms elsewhere.
Uyeasound Salmon had five licensed farm sites around the south end of Unst and sold an average of 1,000 tons of salmon a year, employing eight people including the three partners, Magnus and John Inkster and Ian Thomason.
Mr Thomason said they had started off with just 7,000 fish in two cages and grew to having 275,000 fish in 10 cages. The three partners were involved from the start.
He told The Shetland Times: “The whole thing has been successful and that’s mainly been down to the crew that we’ve had working with us. Some of them have been here since day one.”
Uyeasound Salmon operated next to Lakeland’s existing operation where Lakeland lost 12 cages filled with fish in a storm at Christmas. That incident aside, Lakeland said the waters off Unst had been one of its best-performing areas in recent years, both financially and operationally.
Lakeland is part of the Meridian Salmon Group, which is owned by Morpol, a Polish-Norwegian company which claims to be the world’s biggest processor of salmon.
Morpol’s global head of farming Pål Angell-Hansen said combining its business with Uyeasound Salmon should improve the company’s performance.
“We are very pleased to have finally managed to secure this operation,” he said. “Unst . . . is a very attractive area to operate in with good staff and very little sea lice.”
Most of the eight employees are not transferring to Morpol and several are retiring after what Mr Thomason described as “working 24/7 for the past 27 years”.
Among them is Mr Thomason and his wife Maureen, who ran the administrative side of the business. He said they had sold up to have more time to themselves. “It is just to get ourselves a bit of time to do the things that we’ve always wanted to do.”
The business managed to survive the frequent crises which finished off many other Shetland-owned farms down the years. Mr Thomason said the development that made the biggest difference to its operation was the new pier built by the council at Uyeasound which meant the company no longer had to operate its boats from moorings in the sound. “It gave us safe berthing and made things a hell of a lot better.”
Unst salmon farms have benefited greatly from the lack of sea lice infestation, making them highly attractive to large-scale fish farming companies like Morpol. Uyeasound Salmon’s fish fetched a premium under the RSPCA’s Freedom Food endorsement in the UK and the Whole Foods Market organic brand in the United States market.
Mr Thomason said: “It was a family concern from day one and we always took a pride in producing a good quality product.”
Asked if Lakeland and Morpol had been trying to buy the firm for some time, he said: “They’ve mentioned it once or twice!”
It is just a year and a half since Morpol arrived in Shetland, buying up Lakeland and Mainstream Scotland to become one of the big three in the local industry alongside Scottish Sea Farms and Grieg Seafood Hjaltland.
Morpol has at least 17 per cent of the salmon farming capacity, producing 22,000 tonnes a year with another 7,000 tonnes in Norway.
The sale means the only locally owned salmon farms which still remain in production are Balta Island Seafare in Unst, Bound Skerries in Skerries and Thompson Brothers Salmon in Yell. The most recent one to sell up was Skelda Salmon, which was not growing fish at the time. It was bought by Grieg Seafood Hjaltland a year ago in a £2.2 million deal.