Fish Health in Focus

Rhanna, our Fish Health Technician and assistant to our in-house Veterinarian Jakub, tells us about her role and the work she does to ensure our fish are as healthy and stress-free as possible.

Hi Rhanna, can you tell us a bit about your background and the work you were doing before coming into the role of Fish Health Technician?

“So, I have a bachelor's degree in Forensic Science with Law from Robert Gordon University. Previously I managed a start-up brewery and I’ve also worked for NHS Shetland which was a lab-based role. Eventually, I saw a job advert for a Water Quality Analyst with Grieg Seafood which I applied for and was successful.

“I worked as a Water Quality Analyst for 2 years and set up our harmful algae monitoring system, which has been very important for Grieg as we are at the forefront of algae data collection and analysis in Scotland. I was frequently working with external bodies like universities using our data as we have 3 years' worth of plankton analysis data for Shetland, which is quite extraordinary. During my time in the lab I helped to improve Grieg Seafood Shetland’s fish health monitoring, including blood analysis and PCR gill analysis. We used to do the PCR gill analysis externally and had a 5-day result turnaround, but since bringing it in house we can get results in as little as 24hrs which has had a significant positive impact for managing fish health.

“In October 2019 the position for Fish Health Technician became available which had the opportunity to work out on our sites and do more work with the fish directly. It has been a very natural progression, for me, to go from the labs to working on site.”

So, what do you do to ensure good fish health and minimise stress?

“Theres a couple of different approaches but it's important that we consider the pros and cons and what we’re trying to achieve to benefit our fish. We were recently working with universities as part of a study to improve non-lethal blood sampling and analysis in fish. Think of it like going to the doctor, often they will do blood tests to assess your health and help diagnose any problems. The study is allowing us to take a similar approach to fish health by looking at various health indicators in the biochemistry of the blood. This allows us to increasingly target specific health issues and gain greater insight into what’s happening inside our fish population.

“The biggest problems we have in salmon farming are obviously sea lice and gill health issues. We’re working on lots of projects to discover what exactly is affecting our fish and what we can do to help. We’re constantly trying to gauge fish health to inform us about if and how we should intervene, because the best thing for the fish is to be left alone. For example, putting fish through treatments can be stressful and so we would never do that unless it was absolutely necessary to improve the fish’s quality of life.”

What kinds of things do you look for and consider when trying to decide if fish need any kind of treatment?

“Today is a really good example, I've been east of Papa Little where we have a new generation of fish which haven’t been at the sea site long. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago we discovered that they were having gill health issues. At this stage the fish are still very small and something like this can be quite a challenge for them. We know from experience that sometimes we do see gill issues when they initially leave the hatchery for the sea sites. In most cases this will resolve itself in its own time, but we’ve been visiting the site every week to monitor the situation closely. In this instance the fish have continued to be affected and so we’ve decided to opt for treatment to prevent any long-term damage to the fish’s gills. With every decision, it's all about treating the fish with the most respect we can and giving them the best possible quality of life going forward.

Is there anything else that can be done to overcome our fish health challenges?

“Fish are complex living creatures, and that means that unfortunately there isn't a magic solution. We have a number of different approaches that we can take when intervention is necessary. For instance, we have mechanical, therapeutic and chemical treatments. Each of these options are only effective if used correctly and in a limited capacity, doing the same thing over and over doesn’t work as pathogens can build up resistance. We develop customised fish health strategies that are centred around what is most effective within the limitations of each individual situation. There is no one size fits all approach. As the fish grows and develops through its life cycle different treatments options will become more and less suitable. Additionally, treating our fish is strictly regulated by government authorities which means that we must always consider what is available and how it can be used most effectively. New fish treatment options and preventative innovations are always coming out of the global salmon farming industry. We’re always willing to try new options to enable us to improve fish health and welfare even more.”

Thank you Rhanna for doing this interview with us today. Your passion and dedication to your role is clear and thank you and for taking such good care of our fish!

To find out more about our approach to fish health and welfare click here.