so much to sea


Shetland's salmon farming industry recognises that its future depends on the environment remaining in pristine condition. Through careful husbandry, environmental care and quality control, farmers continue to produce a top quality product.

Shetland salmon is sold all year round to markets throughout the UK, Europe, and the United States, either chilled or frozen whole, in steaks or fillets. Most fish is sold to suppliers in the retail sector or onto secondary processors, who appreciate the quality of the raw fish as a basis for further added value processing.

Smoked Shetland salmon is now widely available. A range of hot and cold smoked salmon and gravadlax is presented whole or sliced in vacuum packs.

Shetland’s salmon farming industry has grown rapidly since it started in the 1980s and it is now truly one of Shetland’s greatest national global success stories. In just under 30 years, the industry is now the cornerstone to the Shetland seafood industry worth a staggering £115 million a year and creating 189 jobs.

1984: produced 50 tonnes of farmed salmon, value £220,000
2012: 46,220 tonnes of farmed salmon, value £115 million

However, in order for salmon farming to compete in a global market in terms of scale and price – it has to be extremely efficient and innovative in its approach.

Today, there are fewer companies in Shetland but they operate larger sites in the more tidal offshore areas with larger pens, automated feeding systems and some very sophisticated equipment for various tasks. There has been a need and a drive to have more area cooperation between sites for biological controls.

It is safe to say salmon farming has now come out of its entrepreneurial, high growth stage and become a more mature, controlled and sustainable industry.

The shetland salmon industry is represented by Shetland Aquaculture.


  • Start life as eggs in freshwater tanks which are laid out in incubation trays
  • The freshwater growth cycle is managed until they reach smolt stage, at which point they have learnt to adapt to saltwater conditions before going to sea
  • Smolts:  transferred to sea when they are about 15cm long, 80 -100g
  • At sea, stocked in pens in low densities to allow room to grow
  • Fish farmer feeds them using automated feeders, according to the smolts’ appetite. Appetite can be impacted by weather, brightness, and temperature
  • Fish are fed pellets that contain the optimum nutrition to grow strong healthy fish: a scientifically tested combination of vegetable and marine oils and proteins.
  • Diet develops over the life cycle of the fish
  • Fish grow in the sites for 18 – 24 months.
  • Sites are fallowed for a period prescribed by SEPA to ensure that the benthic environment in and around the salmon sites remains in balance.
  • Fish are pumped live from pens and taken to a harvest facility onshore or harvested on the wellboat.
  • To ensure the welfare of the fish there is an automated system to slaughter and bleed the fish.
  • In Shetland, the salmon arrive at the primary processing unit the same day that they have been harvested
  • Automated gutting line; graded, sorted on weight.
  • Packed and iced.
  • Secondary processing: portioning, filleting and smoking
  • Despatched in refrigerated units all over the world


  • Shetland’s salmon sites are perfectly located for producing strong, healthy fish – located between the powerful currents created by the North Atlantic and the North Sea
  • It typically takes around 24 months from egg to harvest
  • The farmed salmon production cycle mirrors nature. In the hatcheries the salmon go through their natural physiological transformation to prepare themselves for sea, just as they would in the wild. This includes a dramatic growth rate and increase in feeding.
  • Once the eggs have hatched, the baby salmon, or alevins, eat from their own yolk sac, which contains all the nutrients they need for feeding.