Meavag Fish Farm on the Isle of Harris has been running since 2006 growing fry for the organic and conventional salmon market.
Thanks to demand from customers, and with support from Business Gateway Western Isles, its owner, Paul Finnegan, is expanding the business to include growing the fry to smolt.
Paul explained: “I started out growing salmon eggs to fry which is when they reach about 7grams in weight. At that point I sell them onto producers who put them into fresh water lochs until they become smolts which mean they are ready to go to sea. Until now the producers that we supply have just been taking fry but now want the salmon when they’re ready to go to sea.”
He continued: “In order to meet that demand we’re expanding Meavag Fish Farm to grow smolts which are usually between 70 to 100grams. I will rent local fresh water lochs as I’ll need a much larger area for growing the salmon to that size. I’ve had a lot of help from our Business Gateway Adviser, Norman Maclean, who has been like a mentor to me. He’s very considerate and straightforward and always ready to talk over an idea.”
Norman Maclean said: “We worked with Paul over a period of six months, helping him develop a business plan and financial projections that would allow him to apply for funding to expand the business. We also worked closely with Highlands & Islands Enterprise who, along with ourselves, provided financial support towards the capital investment required to grow the business.
“This expansion gives the business more flexibility to meet customers changing demands and will mean an increase in production and turnover as well as an opportunity for local employment,” added Norman.
Paul grew up in Northampton and joined Barclays Bank when he left school. When he realised the office environment wasn’t for him he began to think what else he could do. Someone said to him do a job you enjoy because you’ll have to do it for 40 years. That inspired Paul and, having always had an interest in fishing, he applied to do a fish farming course at the Scottish Agricultural College in Dumfries.
That led to jobs in fish farming across the UK and overseas but, ultimately, to Harris where he worked for Stolts Sea Farm as a project manager and West Minch Salmon as freshwater manager before leaving to start up Meavag Fish Farm.
The 49 year old explains: “Fish farming involves growing the fish intensively and there needs to be consistency in water quality parameters. This means we have alarms to warn us if there is any loss in power, oxygen or water quality. After working for someone else I decided it was time to put that commitment into working for myself.
“When an alarm goes off we’ve only got 15 minutes to respond and resolve the problem otherwise we could lose the fish. This does mean that, at times, we can never be further than 15 minutes from the farm. It’s quite a responsibility and one that I prefer to do myself rather than delegate. My wife, Maria, and I have been living in the Western Isles for 13 years now and run the business together with help from casual and seasonal staff. We have three children so there is little spare time but I like keeping fit and am learning to play the violin along with my youngest daughter. Although, funnily enough, I haven’t had the time to fish since I started working on fish farms.”
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