“I don’t know if I should use the word “firefighting” but we were coming up with new problems to fight lice”

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Mowi Scotland’s operations director says that he has lice under control. Though new never-seen-before creatures in Scottish waters are creating unforeseen challenges.

Gideon Pringle – who came back to Mowi after a five-year spell at TroutFresh as its farming director – is refreshingly honest with his reasons for doing so.

Gideon Pringle PHOTO Owen Evans

“A large part of my return for the business was that in 2015 things were not going well. Biology was in a very difficult place so I came back part of a new team and we turned things around,” he said. “I don’t know if I should use the word “firefighting” but we were coming up with new problems to fight lice.”

Mowi Scotland managing director Ben Hadfield knew the farming veteran could support the company at a point when the level of biological challenges within farming was high. Pringle started his career with salmon egg and smolt producer Landcatch and then moved to Marine Harvest Scotland as its freshwater manager from 2004 to 2010.

Sea lice count at Loch Leven PHOTO: Owen Evans

“There were just lots of lice – we got to the point that no one could treat them. At the end of 2015, everyone was out of ideas – but we’ve come back in and created new strategies,” he said.

Lowest levels
Pringle told SalmonBusiness that today it’s a different story.

“Our success with lice drives the industries figures with it. We are now at our lowest levels. We can declare now we have lice under full control. We’ve got the resources and the ability,” the Scotsman added. “For example, we can put every single fish we have through a treatment within a 14 day period – that gives us an enormous resource.”

As operations director, Pringle said the tough times actually made them look for more alternative solutions. “It was the only way forward, we had to do something new.”

“We were first adopters and had orders for Thermolicers and Hydolicers long before anyone had seen one in early 2016. On them, they had very low serial numbers like 0001, 0002. We bought the first prototypes and now we are upgraded and getting newer perfected versions,” he said.

Pringle explained that him and his team also “reinvigorated” Salmosan – a chemical that everyone had rated as being fully resistant.

“We changed how that was used and we now get full use out of it.” Norway had access to other drugs simultaneously and before, Scotland did not. “We’ve always had one drug at a time, which then was hammered and made resistant and its become very difficult.”

On methods like lasers, Pringle isn’t fully on board, yet – but stressed that Mowi has much more methods to control lice today than ever. “Now we have Hydrolicers, Thermolicers, fresh water boats, Salmosan and cleaner fish. We have the tools – the trick is to be smart and not allow lice to become resistant again, because they will, every single one of them.”

“Within three to five years we are going to see a drop (in resistance) if everyone is using the same tool. At the moment – luckily not everyone is. The treatment that most common in Scotland right now is the thermolicer, and that’s unfortunate that everyone is using it. The key is to rotate,” he said.

How will climate change and rising tempartures affect Mowi’s Loch Leven? PHOTO: Owen Evans

5- 10 years time
Looking ahead, with climate change increasingly becoming an issue, can Mowi safeguard for issues in 5- 10 years time. “I’m looking to the end of this summer,” laughed Pringle adding: “The question is whether we can truly beat the mortality that comes with the higher temperatures later on in the year”. For example, Mowi Scotland is currently treating harder for sea lice than we would naturally expect at this time of the year.

But with the warmer temperatures, staff are now identifying new kinds of species that are not normally seen in Scottish waters.

“There are plankton and jellyfish from the Atlantic that we’ve never seen before. We are seeing a lot of new species – which are bringing new viruses we don’t even understand yet. We are seeing new syndromes in the fish from the new planktonic species, it’ll take years before we identify them,” he said.

Harvest
This year, Pringle explained that Mowi has risk assessed for all their farms during warmer times. “Farms that are due to harvest in the danger period that are high risk, we are actually going to short harvest them and bring them forward a bit, that’ll sacrifice a bit of mean weight but just be ready to take them out at the front of the summer. And then we will push farms back which are normally quite resilient,” he explained.

Pringle said that today is longer about fixing things but making sure the plan is maintained. “As of now, we’ve declared the turnaround – the 3-year program – finished. What I do now is monitor all the KPIs on a daily basis. So it’s probably time to go again,” he laughed.