18 16 JULY 2020
Braving two-metre waves is all in a day’s work for Ed Ley-Wilson of
Aquascot Ltd, which supplies Waitrose & Partners with Scottish salmon
in freshwater hatcheries dotted around the
country. After about a year, an incredible
transformation occurs, where the fish start
to change their behaviour and turn from a
mottled brown to a bright silver bar – their
sea colours, which perfectly camouflage them
from predators above and below.
“The really extraordinary part though is
the physiological change, called smolting,
which means they are able to live in salt water
rather than fresh. Once in the sea pens, they’ll
spend 12 to 18 months feeding and growing
from around 100g when they entered the sea
to around 5kg at the point of harvest.
“We watch them through underwater
cameras and, like any animal, the fish tell
us how they are feeling by their behaviour.
OK, their facial expressions don’t give much
away, but you know when you’re looking at
a healthy, well-treated salmon – it’s a bright
silver bar of muscle, shoaling with its pals
and feeding as expected.
“And just like a terrestrial farmer, our
farmers have to be good enough stockpeople
to know how the animals in their care are
feeling each day, and what to do to make
sure they thrive.
“It’s not an easy job, often far from land and
out in the cold and wet, but it’s a challenge
that attracts a certain type of person – hardy,
resilient, patient and adventurous of spirit.
“If you don’t like the wet and the ground
moving under your feet, you definitely don’t
want to become a salmon farmer!”
Meet the producer
‘Fish will tell you how they’re feeling’
“I describe my job as having ‘feet on the
farm’ – though that’s more likely to mean
pitching about on a boat than standing on
solid ground,” says Ed Ley-Wilson, right.
“Waitrose & Partners set high standards on
sustainability and animal welfare, and it’s my
responsibility to work with our farmers to
meet those standards.
“Our farms are set in sea lochs around the
Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Some
are in relatively sheltered positions, but on
the more exposed sites getting out to the
pens can mean braving up to two-metre
waves. But you can’t get the full picture from
looking at a spreadsheet in the comfort of an
office – you have to get out there.
“Our salmon start life as fertilised eggs