New Shetlands courses for Highlands offer RAS fix, management

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You might not expect an Aussie marooned in Scotland’s Shetland Islands to be running courses on fish-farming operations, but Brisbane, Australia native Stuart Fitzsimmons really has lost his tan.

“Yeah. I’ve been here for some 30 years. Lost the tan,” the former hatchery manager said. He knows the business, having worked for a company bought by Grieg Seafood and more recently, for Scottish Sea Farms.

Thanks to Fitzsimmons’ work teaching and creating courses at the North Atlantic Fisheries Center Marine Shetland campus, Scotland’s salmon farms are now seeing a cadre of well-trained graduates from new and established aquaculture programs and courses set up to address their exact needs. As we spoke, he was preparing his next trip to the Mainland NAFC campus for “face-to-face” teaching and meetings with eager Scots.

“We’ve taught hundreds and hundreds face-to-face,” Fitzsimmons confirmed.

Read With EU cash, Ireland to find RAS uses 

At least 14 students with previous fish-farming experience are understood to be enrolled and waiting for Fitzsimmons at the NAFC’s to teach the new Technical Apprenticeship in Aquaculture Management course, with more confirmed to be enrolling in 2018. Half of the students attending this course under the University of Highlands and Islands have come from other parts of Scotland.

They also come from abroad.

“We do get quite a lot of foreign students from around the globe,” he said, adding that Norwegians, Canadians and newly interested Americans are all welcome.

Senior managers
The management course is the first of its kind in the UK and was developed by the industry, the NAFC to meet a demand for managers in remote areas. The apprenticeship was designed to help experienced aquaculture staff gain the “senior management” qualification while working in the industry.

Modern Apprenticeships, a course set up earlier for new and experienced aquaculture staff, has offered a career development path for aquaculture workers from newbie entry-level types to senior managers. At year-end, 2017, 50 aquaculture staff from across the country were enrolled in the Modern program.

They join over 150 who already have the qualification, part of the “hundreds and hundreds” Fitzsimmons and his colleagues have trained via a growing range of courses.

Topical: a Danish landbased RAS facility

On RAS problems
One of those courses is Recirculating Aquaculture Systems Water Quality Awareness started up in 2017 to meet special industry interests.

This “theoretical introduction to the fundamentals of monitoring and maintaining water quality in recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS” has no entry requirements and covers nitrites, nitrates, ammonia, start-up procedures, bio-towers, common problems of power cuts, crashes, clogging, antibiotics and disinfectants, the course literature says.

Fitzsimmons teaches the RAS course. He uses his five years as hatchery manager under a company taken over by Grieg to ensure the course is industry-focused.

Online courses
RAS problems covered by the course include fish health issues like ammonia poisoning, brown blood disease, bacterial gill disease, fungus, carbon dioxide, low oxygen, pathogenic bacteria and heavy metals. This half-day RAS course for GBP 150 is by arrangement with NAFC, and Fitzimmons said the RAS course is likely to be offered online.

In 2017, NAFC started offering online versions of the courses Fish Welfare and Fish Farm Containment which they let students complete their training “whenever and wherever it suits them”.

“The Centre intends to further increase the range of courses available for online study in 2018,” a statement said.

Many of the courses were started by Fitzsimmons at the behest of a local aquaculture company in the Shetlands. News reached mainland Scotland, and it spread around the world.