Interview with Alison Brough, winner of the WiSA ‘Rising star of the year’ award, 2024

Alison graduated from The University of Liverpool in 2017. After five years in farm practice in Dumfries and Galloway she joined pastures blue in 2022. Alison works as part of the in-house veterinary team at Scottish Sea Farms, Scotland's second largest producer of Atlantic Salmon providing support for farms on the west coast of Scotland, from the Isle of Mull, Oban, north to Orkney and Shetland.

What does winning the WiSA Award 2024 mean to you? 

I was taken aback because there was such strong competition, but I’m delighted – not just for myself but for Scottish Sea Farms too. 
What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture?  

After graduating from Liverpool University School of Veterinary Science in 2017, I worked in farm animal practice so had experience of herd health planning and strategic veterinary involvement but had never considered aquaculture until I saw the Scottish Sea Farms advert.  

It’s such a new and innovative sector and when I spoke to people about it, they said it’s a great time to be part of it, with so many changes happening.  

I’m from a farming background so food production means a lot to me, and aquaculture has huge potential when it comes to producing sustainable food. That was the biggest draw for me. 
Briefly describe your aquaculture career  

Since I joined Scottish Sea Farms in February 2022, I realised the way to make the biggest difference to the fish was to ensure that those caring for them had the highest possible level of knowledge.  

So, I took on the role of delivering fish health training. This has involved the design and introduction of a new series of fish health and welfare modules, presented in person at mainland farms in year one, with video modules going online in year two, so farm teams across all three farming regions have access to support and learning. 
Which individuals or organisations in aquaculture have you found particularly inspirational?  

Scottish Sea Farms Head of Veterinary Services Ronnie Soutar, who has been a huge part of my journey, is a genuinely great person and he has connected me to a lot of inspirational people in the sector. 
How important has networking been to your career?  

My job can be quite lonely so having like-minded people to reach out to and talk to is very important, both professionally and socially. 

I took on the role of secretary of the Fish Vets’ Society almost as soon as I joined the sector and have met vets with different backgrounds, all of whom are very interesting.  

I have also just joined the Young Aquaculture Society as one of their ‘big fish’, which is an advisory role. The other members are from all corners of the sector, from academia to farming, and there are some very smart people involved with great ideas. 
During your career, have you noticed inequalities in the sector, be it in policies or culture? If yes, what actions do you think would best address those issues?  

I think the culture generally is still male dominated, simply because there are far more men than women in most leadership positions. Having more female role models would be beneficial to younger women making their way in the profession.  

Having said that, Scottish Sea Farms does have great policies in place for women and many family- friendly initiatives. 

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date?  

Being named one of the British Veterinary Association's top three Young Vets of the Year in 2022, from more than 100 nominees UK-wide. 
What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career?  

I’d say network as much as possible. If you can get to the big events, such as the Fish Vets Society conference, or Aquaculture UK, or some of the other conferences, then make the effort. 

Also, practical experience is invaluable. At Scottish Sea Farms, we now offer an EMS (extra mural studies) programme for vet students at Edinburgh and Glasgow, devised by Ronnie Soutar, which has proved very popular. I tend to take the students, two at a time, to our Barcaldine Hatchery and then on to a marine farm, and we finish at the processing unit in South Shian, so they get a thorough background. I also show them how to do a basic post-mortem on a fish, how to take histology samples, and do routine gill swabs. 

What do you think will be the key drivers/areas for innovation for Scottish aquaculture in the next decade?  

The two innovations I believe would be game-changing are, first, providing supplementary oxygen at scale, say to an entire farm, to support the fish as much as possible when conditions might lower their blood oxygen level or otherwise cause stress. The technology exists but, as far as I know, no farms have this facility on scale at present, although we can provide aeration. 

Second, I would like to see a wider range of medicines, particularly supporting therapies to maximise welfare. For all other animals, multimodal analgesia is available, but fish only have the soluble anaesthetic which we use on 10 fish at a time. It would be very helpful, for example, to introduce anti-inflammatories (which can also have an analgesic effect) to fish with damaged gills, to help their recovery. 

Read more interviews