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SAIC membership leaps as aquaculture targets innovative future. Consortium grows by a quarter during Covid-19 pandemic as SAIC and the sector focus on new technology and ways of working

SAIC – the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre – has reached a significant milestone in its membership base, as Scotland’s aquaculture sector increasingly looks to collaborative innovation to deliver sustainable growth.

Malin Group, the marine engineering specialist, and Isle of Skye Mussel Company – one of Scotland’s burgeoning community of seafood small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – have joined SAIC’s consortium, taking its membership beyond 150 organisations for the first time.

The consortium acts as a connecting point for different parts of the sector, including seafood producers, supply chain companies, regulators, and the public sector. Beyond aquaculture, sectors represented range from biotechnology, subsea companies, and equipment suppliers, to logistics firms and retailers.

More than half of SAIC’s membership (57%) is made up of SMEs, while another 31% is large organisations. Around half (48%) of the consortium is based in Scotland, while 28% are located in other parts of the UK and 9% overseas, reflecting the growing diversity of organisations with an interest in Scottish aquaculture and its R&D projects.

Consortium membership particularly grew in 2020, increasing by around 25% from February as SAIC and the sector sought to increase connections, deliver greater adoption of technology, and encourage new ways of working. Earlier in the year, the innovation centre launched its ongoing rapid-response funding programme to support investment in innovation at a highly challenging time.

By the end of the decade, Scotland’s aquaculture sector is aiming to sustainably increase its contribution to the economy to £3.6 billion – effectively doubling from 2016’s levels. The objective was outlined in the Aquaculture Growth to 2030 strategy, which also highlighted the crucial role of innovation in helping to meet the increasing global demand for farmed fish and shellfish.

Heather Jones, CEO of SAIC, said:

“The growth of SAIC’s consortium reflects the increasing commitment from aquaculture – as well as the many industries that support it – to innovation and collaboration. It also highlights the growing diversity of the sector, not only in terms of geography, but also in the types of businesses involved, their size, and areas of focus.

“That innovation is a priority for organisations throughout aquaculture – from fish feed producers to food retailers – reflects the growing recognition that the sector is more inter-connected than it has ever been. Organisations within it need to draw on each other’s skills and expertise to drive a sustainable future, and our consortium brings people together to connect, collaborate, and communicate, fostering dialogue and knowledge-sharing that ultimately translates into tangible commercial results for our members.”

Dr Judith Brown, director of Isle of Skye Mussel Company, said:

“Joining the consortium during our start-up phase has enabled us to build relationships within a range of fields from research to industry, and the positivity of the SAIC staff has been fantastic during a difficult time to start a new business. The SAIC network encourages a spirit of knowledge-sharing and collaboration that has been invaluable to us as a new business. It has opened the doors to an entire community of aquaculture experts that are willing to work together.

“With backgrounds in commercial fisheries and natural resource management and, having studied sustainable aquaculture, we recognise the benefit of business innovation working hand in hand with science and academic research. In the next few years, we hope to welcome university visits and support postgraduate students, as well as getting involved with new R&D projects ourselves.”

Chris Dunn, principal naval architect for Malin Group, said:

“Aquaculture is growing at pace, and it is encouraging to see so many businesses harnessing new and innovative technology. Joining SAIC’s consortium has been a great development for the Malin Group, providing a forum to learn more about aquaculture, as well as develop our activity in this important sector.

“We were keen to forge relationships with those working on the front-line of aquaculture, as they can help us gain a better understanding of the day-to-day opportunities and challenges – particularly in terms of fuel emissions and electrification. Sustainability is a key focus for us within the Group, as well as the sector as a whole, and collaboration through networks like SAIC will be key to making workboats ready to support the sector’s future.”

Loch Duart, a premium producer of salmon based in the north west Highlands, became SAIC’s 100th member in the summer of 2018. Prior to that, Marks and Spencer, one of the UK’s top food retailers, which sets high welfare and production standards for the fish it sources, became SAIC’s 50th consortium member.

Patrick Blow, aquaculture specialist at Marks and Spencer, said:

“SAIC plays a very important role in the cross-fertilisation of the knowledge and expertise across aquaculture. The innovation centre is integral in bringing different groups together and applying the latest science to the sector’s practices. Aquaculture is still relatively young and innovation will be vital to helping it sustainably grow in the years ahead.”

Mark Warrington, managing director at Loch Duart, said:

“Salmon farming at sea is exciting and challenging and our knowledge has moved forward so much in the last 50 years. Loch Duart has always valued very highly any innovation in our industry. As SAIC is the only industry-based innovation centre that can deliver collaborative technical research, we are delighted by its existence and fully support its work.”