By Quentin Dodd
By Quentin Dodd
Bought from its parent company Lithgows, by Hendrix Genetics in 2011, Landcatch has gone from strength to strength in the past two years. It has undoubtedly benefitted from the genetic expertise of Hendrix, a world leading, multi-species breeding company involved in poultry, pigs and turkeys, which has brought new technology to the fore in the salmon rearing business.
The company’s selective breeding programme is key to its success, with brood fish rigorously selected for performance on individual, family and field derived data. Last year, more than 1800 different crosses were made to produce particular characteristics including growth, survival, fillet colour, grilsing, IPN QTL and will soon include increased resistance to disease such as AGD. The latest development, reduced susceptibility to sea lice infestation, is particularly exciting for customers. Landcatch’s new SNP chip technology is playing an increasingly important part in such developments.
Large production capacity
Salmon broodstock are kept at the company’s land-based seawater site at Ormsary, situated on the remote Campbeltown peninsula on the West of Scotland and all fish are BKD and IPN certified.
Keith Drynan, head of broodstock production, explained that Landcatch has the capacity to produce up to 40 million eggs per year at Ormsary, and 4.5 million smolts at its four freshwater tank sites in Scotland.
Eggs go almost exclusively to the UK market, but the company is actively seeking to develop their export potential. Until 2009, Landcatch had operations in Chile, producing both ova and smolts for the domestic market.
“Chile was also an excellent market for eggs from our Scottish operations, but a change in national health regulations preventing the importation of eggs into Chile put a stop to our export business,” said Keith. “Almost overnight, an important market was extinguished, and we had to seek additional outlets within the UK salmon industry.”
However, the Landcatch brand continues to enjoy high status in Chile, and several major breeding programmes are managed by the company from its genetics centre in Stirling. “We provide genetic services and breeding support for more than 25% of egg production within Chile, using the Landcatch strain,” said Keith.
Extensive breeding facility
The broodstock unit has 27 circular tanks, ranging in size from 200 cubic metres to 10 cubic metres, for which water is pumped from the adjacent Loch Caolisport at a rate of up to 2.5 tonnes/second. This passes through a variety of filters, to maintain biosecurity of the production unit.
The site also has a pristine fresh water supply, with a long history of disease-free testing, which is necessary for the spawning, egg and smolt stages.
Brood fish are kept together in a ratio of three females to one male and particular attention is given to breeding the best characteristics in the male fish.
Spawning occurs naturally from September to October for photoperiod advanced broodfish, and October to December for those kept under ambient conditions. “One of the benefits of a landbased facility such as Ormsary, is the ability to produce eggs all year round, although it is a more expensive option and requires long-term notice from customers,” said Keith.
Close watch is kept on the fish during the spawning season and fish close to maturity are moved to small tanks adjacent to the production unit. Hens ready for stripping are anaesthetised and euthanized, then hung up through the gill arch to allow the ova to drain into a collection vessel. Care is taken to collect only eggs and ovarian fluid and to avoid any contamination.
Cock fish are sedated to enable staff to verify that they are ready to strip. This is achieved by catheterisation and the process is only undertaken once, after which the males are euthanized.
“It is possible to keep the fish and repeat the process within a few days,” explained Keith, “but at present all our needs are satisfied with one stripping, and we generally have excess milt which can be cryogenically frozen for use later in the season,”
There follows a three-minute window to mix ova and milt to the required genetic crosses, after which it is disinfected and removed to a quarantine area in the nearby hatchery, until IPN testing on the brood fish shows a negative result. Once cleared, each batch can be handled and auto sorted, and placed in incubators in single cross groups, in controlled temperature and environmental conditions Egg clutches are bar-coded from the minute they are collected to ensure complete traceability.
Once eggs reach the eyed stage at around 250 degree days, they are shocked then auto sorted, before being incubating to around 320 degree days. At this point they are hand-picked and selected, to ensure that only a premium product is available for customers, or for in-house hatching for Landcatch’s own smolt unit. This is a time-consuming business and up to 12 additional staff are engaged and trained to ensure all orders can be met.
Before packing they are put through an auto counter and thoroughly disinfected. “We have to move quickly at this stage to ensure that product integrity is maintained and that the eggs are kept cool, as development is related to temperature,” said Keith.
Landcatch is a member of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, producing to its Code of Good Practice standards, along with Label Rouge, Freedom Food and GlobalGap.
At Landcatch ova are packed in made-to-order EPS cases, each of which takes 38,000 eggs. Depending on distance to destination, the top one or two layers of the case may be filled with sterilised ice, which trickles down over the eggs as it melts, keeping them moist and cool. The boxes are disposable and Landcatch is currently investigating use of a recyclable alternative, to reduce their overall environmental impact.
Eggs for air-freight can be packed in a sturdy outer container, but none are currently sent this way.
“When we were sending eggs to Chile we had minor problems outside our control,” explained Keith Drynan, head of broodstock production at Landcatch. “…such as the time a consignment was left on the tarmac in the full heat of the sun during a transfer and we lost the whole batch, but in general, they arrived in good condition. The cases keep them viable for 4-5 days, which is ample time to get them across the world. However, the one part of the process that always has to be spot-on is the paperwork, and especially ensuring that each batch carries the correct health certificates for the destination country.”
For deliveries in the UK, Landcatch has a new customer-facing policy, which means that each batch is hand-delivered by experienced personnel to ensure there are no issues with delivery or with the quality of the ova on arrival. “This has enabled us to develop a much better relationship with our customers and to understand their needs better,” Keith explained.
It also means that after-sales service has been enhanced and Landcatch personnel regularly catch up on the progress of eggs, first feeding, juveniles and smolts, to gather statistics such as survival rates, feeding performance, disease status etc. “All of this information can be related back to the original broodstock and helps us to develop better fish in future,” said Keith.