A large-scale £15 million salmon smolts hatchery is nearing completion in Girlsta.
The Shetland branch of fish farming company Grieg Seafoods said the hi-tech factory will provide 14 new jobs and mean smolts can be produced in Shetland rather than transporting them from mainland Scotland.
“The vast majority of smolt will now be, for our company, produced here at Girlsta,” said interim hatchery manager Jon Walden, with about 85 per cent being produced at the site.
“Previously we have bought all of our smolt from external sources, we’ve had no in-house production,” Mr Walden said. “We are hoping through having in-house production we will get a better quality of smolt, more suited to our needs.”
For the company, producing the small salmon at Girlsta means cutting down on transport costs, giving control over the smolt quality and size, and preventing disease being brought to Shetland. It also stops the fish being put under strain when travelling from south.
“All of the other major salmon farming companies in Scotland have their own in-house smolt production, we’re the only ones that haven’t until now,” Mr Walden said.
Sigurd Pettersen regional director of Grieg Seafood Hjaltland UK Ltd, said the smolt hall is as large as about three or four tennis courts.
Mr Walden said there had been a hatchery on the site previously, but the smolt hall alone is three times bigger than the entire former hatchery.
Water from the Loch of Girlsta will be used and recirculated through tanks to develop the fish. The recirculation technology is a move away from a flow through system where water runs through the tanks.
“It’s a big step up,” Mr Walden said. “Previously the hatcheries there [at Girlsta] have been limited by the use of water, but with the recirculation technology that we have now, and that’s becoming widespread in the industry, both in Scotland and in Norway, we are able to produce an awful lot more fish in an awful lot less water. It’s a very efficient use of water.”
It is hoped the hatchery, costing about £15 million will be completed by the beginning of March and it is expected to produce five million smolts per year.
Grieg Seafood has 21 farms in Shetland where the smolts will be developed further. It has four in Skye.
Mr Walden said the hatchery has about 12 staff at present.
He said: “Recirculation technology has been around for a long time but it has been considered to be unreliable and unproductive in the past, but things have changed.
“The systems are more reliable and they are being used more widely on a much bigger scale, so the knowledge and experience is starting to develop, not just in Scotland but in Norway and actually all over the world.
“But there is a trend towards these bigger recirculation systems and its a trend that we’re following.”
Mr Pettersen added: “It’s a massive event for Shetland. It means that we produce our own fish up here and we create jobs here, rather than creating them elsewhere. We show that it is possible to build hi-tech, very very challenging jobs up here.”