A LEADING Scots salmon firm is to axe jobs in the Western Isles. The Scottish Salmon Company has had to review its harvesting and processing requirements in Stornoway.
It blames a failure to secure planning permission for additional fish farms in a timescale they had originally envisaged, in addition to a disease which has impeded the growth of salmon.
The company confirmed that a consultation process had begun with staff to explore options to redeploy staff where possible or offer assistance to find alternative employment.
SSC has not been able to secure planning permission for additional sites, such as at Toa Tolsta and Plocrapol, in the timescales it thought possible when investing the £3million in its new factory.
A spokesman said that, without consistent year-on-year volumes from a balanced farming operation, the processing facility cannot be operated efficiently.
In addition, the company claims biological challenges in 2012 – in particular Amoebic Gill Disease – had impeded the growth of the salmon and impacted on the volumes available in 2013.
However, SSC expects to have more volume towards the end of 2013 and into 2014 when fish from a new site in the Highlands are ready to be harvested.
The company is also pursuing new planning consents at other locations in the Western Isles and the mainland, which would secure the levels of production needed for its Marybank and Arnish facilities to work at full capacity in the longer term.
Chief executive Stewart McLelland said: “We deeply regret this situation, but hope that we can reassure local communities that once more sites start to produce fish, we will once again have the volumes that make full production at Marybank and Arnish viable again.
“Despite our best efforts to correct the imbalance of production cycles across the company’s operation, we have not been able to establish and develop new sites as originally expected within the necessary timescales.
“This process of expansion continues but, for the moment, there is now a time lag before sufficient numbers of next generation of fish can be harvested and processed through Marybank.”
He added: “Coupled with this is the fact that our fish were affected by Amoebic Gill Disease. This naturally occurring amoeba which impacts fish health is exacerbated by warm weather and a lack of rain and, like many in the industry we were affected at a critical time last summer.
“Finally, the uncharacteristically low market price for salmon in 2012 meant that our income has been reduced.
“When combined with insufficient fish to process, it is another reason why we cannot operate Marybank, in the short term, without cutting jobs.”
The Scottish Salmon Company currently employs over 380 people in its 50-plus operations along the West Coast of Scotland, from the Isle of Lewis in the north to Arran in the south.
It embarked on an investment plan to find 10 new sites in 2010. Two consents have been awarded in Highland and Argyll and the company is currently consulting on planning applications in Harris and another in Argyll.
Mr McLelland added: “The Comhairle [local authority] has demonstrated its support of aquaculture development in the region and we are in the very fortunate position to have the total commitment of our investors. These two factors mean we can look forward with confidence.
“We all believe in Scottish salmon farming and have made great strides to promote and export a high quality, sustainable product successfully into domestic and overseas markets. We remain committed to making The Scottish Salmon Company a business all our stakeholders can be proud of.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP, Alasdair Allan, and MP, Angus MacNeil, said the announcement of job losses would be a cause of concern to many families who depend on the company.
They added that it was now important that public agencies and the company work together to ensure that as many of these jobs as possible could be reinstated over time.
Mr Allan said: “Clearly this news has an impact on the lives of many people in the islands and comes in the midst of what are already economically difficult times.
“The company has indicated that it intends this reduction in the workforce to be temporary and it is now obviously in everyone’s interest that we all work together to make sure that the company is in a position to start taking people on again as soon as possible.”
Mr MacNeil added: “It is obviously concerning that the Scottish Salmon Company have begun a consultation process on job losses.
“I understand that the current difficulties are due to the lack of available volumes this year and the Amoebic Gill Disease, which affected many in the Salmon farming industry.
“It is however pleasing that there is a long term commitment to continue production and processing in the Western Isles.
“Again, we realise how important the salmon farming sector is in these islands.
“We should all be aware that the best quality salmon in the world probably comes from the Hebrides and the Scottish Salmon Company is at the forefront of this and also in providing much needed employment in our islands.”