Top 10 Under 40
Top 10 Under 40: Noelia Rodriguez
By Mari-Len De Guzman
Thirty-seven-year-old Noelia Rodriguez knows full well that smolt quality will play a key role on how the growth and success of the fish at sea cages. This realization came to her while working at Scottish Sea Farms’ marine farm in Shetland, Scotland, overseeing the delivery, behaviour and performance of Ballan wrasse, including mortality levels and cause of death.
In 2017, when she was given the opportunity to work as a freshwater fish health and welfare manager, she took on that responsibility, bringing her marine farming experience into the role.
“By this stage, the company had already made the commitment to build a RAS freshwater hatchery and I wanted to be involved in what was set to be a truly transformational project, both in terms of fish welfare and the end product for the consumer,” Rodriguez recalls.
Today, she is the operations manager at the new Barcaldine RAS hatchery. This £55-million (US$71.4 million) RAS facility delivered its first batch of smolt to Scottish Sea Farms’ ocean grow-out in late 2019, with each smolt weighing an average of 146 grams, three times the size delivered by typical hatcheries.
Rodriguez notes the first two years into her job at the Barcaldine hatchery was a learning curve, particularly on the RAS technology. But learning is integral to growing in the profession. Graduating from the University of Oviedo in Northern Spain with a biology degree, Rodriguez’s first foray into the aquaculture sector was as a research associate for the NAFC Marine Science Centre in Shetland. In 2012, she joined Scottish Sea Farms as a fish health biologist for the marine farm. In a span of eight years, Rodriguez learned the production ropes in the full lifecycle of farmed fish – from hatchery to nursery to grow-out, and from marine farming, to freshwater flow-through to recirculating aquaculture systems.
“She left her home country of Spain to gain practical marine farming experience and a related qualification. She took the lessons learned and successfully applied them to freshwater farming to bring about real advances in team work and communication. And very quickly she made the leap from traditional hatchery methods to RAS hatchery methods; methods which are delivering Scottish Sea Farms’ biggest, most robust smolts yet that require up to two months less at sea,” writes Lesley Rice, Rodriguez’s colleague, in her nomination.
One of the biggest lessons Rodriguez has learned through the years and one she would like to impart to younger workers: Patience.
“Aquaculture and hatchery work are not specialisms that you can learn 100 percent at university,” she says. “You will have a great knowledge base to work from, but practical experience is also required so there’s a need to be patient. The opportunities to progress will come but first you need to understand the fish themselves and the systems.”
The initial success of their work at the Barcaldine Hatchery is only the beginning for Rodriguez, who feels there is still much to be learned, particularly in raising fish in the most sustainable and responsible way possible. She also want to share her knowledge and experiences in salmon farming across the industry, and help showcase the industry’s role in achieving global food security.
Her advice to young people in the industry: “Go for it,” she says. “Show what you can do, care for the fish, work well with the people around you and absorb knowledge from everyone you can. There are many experienced people and they are always happy to share what they know.”