Guest blog: Working in aquaculture without an aquaculture background

Alexandra Cocuti is a Freshwater Feed Co-ordinator at Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd. She is originally from Romania and moved to Shetland with her husband in 2015 with no previous aquaculture experience.

My adventure starts on a hot morning of July 2015 in Romania (35°C), with a few clothes and an old car. The whole journey, 3500 km, it was filled with hopes, dreams, fear and tears. By the time we (me and my husband) were closer to Shetland the gap between the similarities and familiar environment was bigger and even more scary.

I started work the next Monday in Lerwick Fish Traders salmon processing plant (now Grieg Seafood Shetland Limited). My first week was full of excitement from learning how to do jobs in the factory, meeting my new colleagues, and the most important thing – sign my first contract overseas.Working in the factory gave me the time to learn a bit about salmon and see the differences between a healthy salmon and another one not so healthy. In the factory I showed an interest in quality control and they gave me the opportunity to help the quality control person.

After two years in the factory I saw a job advertised within the company for a fish tech for our lump sucker project. After a couple of days of thinking and considering all the pros and the fear of changing the environment altogether, I said it is time for me to get out of my comfort zone and I applied for the job. It was an affirmative answer! For a year, I was working in the lump sucker hatchery and on site; the job was a mix between the hatchery and the sea sites. The hatchery was a small flow-through hatchery, with a small team. The company helped me with my fish health courses and I started work on my first SVQ, SVQ Level 2.

Working on the sea, jumping on the pens, in the boats, feeding the fish, looking after them, made me love life on the sea, I was feeling in my element. Working outside gave me the feeling I wasn’t at work – summer in Scotland is just amazing. Working and studying at the same time, because I don’t have any background in aquaculture, doing it this way – it was easy to learn fast. My colleagues played a big role in my learning, they gave me all the support I needed.

The lump sucker hatchery was a project and because I wanted something more stable, I applied for the fish tech’s job at Grieg’s salmon RAS. They took me into their team, I started SVQ Level 3, I was nominated for Lantra awards (still some work to do with my emotions during an interview), they promoted me from a fish tech to feed co-ordinator and I’ve just completed my enrolment for SVQ Level 4. Working in a recirculating aquaculture system is the right balance for me to be hands on but as well to work in an office.

Coming from a country without such a strong aquaculture culture, without any background in salmon farming, starting from the lower level but having the desire of doing good, wanting to learn something new every day, recognising my lower points and working to improve my performance every day is my receipt for success.

I am still trying to find my place, fighting with my fears, finding new opportunities to improve and educate myself but I know that aquaculture is my path.

Read more articles from women in Scottish aquaculture