Salmon Farming Firm Brings In Hi-Tech Tracking After Cages Blown Out to Sea

by Raymond Notarangelo

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Meridian logo for web newsHi-tech GPS tracking technology is being rolled out by a responsible Scottish salmon business after hurricane-force storms caused 12 farming cages to break their moorings and blow into open sea.

Meridian Salmon Group says the incident – which killed 300,000 fully-grown fish and cost the firm £740,000 in losses as well as search and salvage charges – is unprecedented in its experience.

Now Managing Director Mark Warrington has ordered the reinstated cages at the Shetland site to be fitted with GPS trackers to ensure they can be quickly located in the unlikely event of a repeat incident.

Mark said: “This was a freak incident that no one in our business has encountered previously.

“While the moorings we used were appropriate for the location and the conditions, we have already taken a decision to upgrade more robust moorings for all of our sites in Shetland and in Orkney.

“However, we won’t rest there. When these cages were set adrift it took us several weeks to locate them. That hampered hopes of a quick resolution, but even more worryingly it could have posed a risk to other shipping.

“By taking the responsible decision to add GPS tracking technology to cages at this site, we can ensure that, in the unlikely event of a repeat, cages can be located immediately and warnings issued to other shipping.

“We will monitor the position and assess whether we require to install similar GPS devices at other locations.”

The dozen cages were moored at Winna Ness, south of the isle of Uyea, off Unst in Shetlland. They were blown loose during the gales of Christmas Day 2011 and as soon as the loss was discovered on Boxing Day, it was reported to the Coastguard.

Despite hopes the cages would be found nearby, it was several days before they were spotted drifting in the North Sea. Storm conditions meant they had to be relocated several times.

The hunt for the missing equipment and 1000 tonnes of fish involved specially commissioned spotter planes, trawlers tugs and fisheries protection vessels.

Eventually the cages were located 85 miles out to sea, near BP’s Bruce Platform and close to Norwegian waters. Eight of the cages were salvaged four weeks after the incident. Four remain on the seabed. However, the company is planning an operation to salvage the four on the seabed at further additional cost.

Mark added: “We are determined to take the positives away from what was a very difficult and worrying experience for all of us in the company.

“One of the biggest positives was the fantastic reaction of all our staff in Shetland, their willingness to do whatever was required to resolve the situation and the speed and efficiency in restoring the site. We have come back stronger.

“Another positive was that our feeding and control barge on the site withstood everything the elements could throw at it, convincing us that the barge model we use in Shetland should be the way forward for all of our sites across Scotland.

“But by far the biggest positive is that no-one was hurt or injured and we can now build on our already excellent safety record by taking precautions to new levels which far exceed anything the law requires.”

Meridian Salmon Group is one of the top five salmon farming companies in Scotland, employing 350 people. It operates at 50 sea sites and eight freshwater sites across Scotland and Cumbria and next year will also open a state-of-the-art new processing plant in Rosyth, Fife.

Its investment and planned expansion in production is particularly crucial in Shetland and Orkney, where hundreds of jobs and fragile rural, island economies are dependent on the salmon farming industry, which is now Scotland’s biggest food exporter and worth £220 million per year.

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Raymond Notarangelo

Raymond Notarangelo, co-founded Scottish PR agency, Holyrood Partnership after spotting a gap for colourful and innovative public relations in Edinburgh. He now leads a team providing media relations, social media, video, photography, brand newsrooms, crisis communication and media relations.

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