Interview with Anne Anderson, winner of the WiSA ‘Outstanding Contribution’ award, 2024

Anne Anderson is Head of Sustainability & Development with Scottish Sea Farms. She was formerly Sustainability Director for the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, where she led the sector-wide Scottish Salmon Sustainability Charter. Having always enjoyed working in a challenging and multi-complex environment, Anne moved into finfish aquaculture in 2018 following a 30-year public career in the public sector which culminated in heading up the regulatory function of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and is thoroughly passionate about the responsible and sustainable production of farmed salmon.

What does winning the WiSA Award 2024 mean to you?
Scottish farmed salmon is a sector I’m hugely passionately about, and I have put a lot on the line professionally to champion it as a sustainable food source. I’m realistic, though, that the journey to ensuring those green credentials are better understood will be long, with progress coming in small steps, requiring focus and resilience. So, learning that my peers see a positive difference from the work I’m involved in is a welcome boost and a further reminder of why I’m doing what I do.

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture?
In my previous career as Chief Officer for Compliance & Beyond with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), I worked with a wide range of sectors, becoming familiar with their different environmental footprints.

When it came to aquaculture, I was struck by how low impact it was in comparison, and how passionate and innovative the people working within the sector were. Yet its regulation was overly restrictive and disproportionate. I wanted to play my part in bringing about a regulatory framework that was as supportive as it was robust, enabling the sector, its people and, in turn, the wider country to thrive.

Briefly describe your aquaculture career
Upon leaving SEPA, I first joined the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (now Salmon Scotland) as Sustainability Director, helping the sector identify what would be required for it to develop and grow sustainably, introducing a sustainability charter and establishing the need to re-visit the regulatory regime.

Those done, the next natural step was to roll up my sleeves and help play my part in delivering those advances, leading me to take up the new role of Head of Sustainability & Development with Scottish Sea Farms.

Which individuals or organisations in aquaculture have you found particularly inspirational? 
Truthfully, there are too many to mention: from colleagues within Scottish Sea Farms and peers across the sector, to the government officials, regulators and other key stakeholders who generously give their time to learn, discuss and debate. Quite simply, it’s the most challenging and inspiring collective of teams and individuals I’ve ever worked with.

How important has networking been to your career?
‘Networking’ isn’t a term I ever use, personally. It suggests a falseness or tick box exercise. For me, making progress relies on building genuine connections. In other words, seeking to understand the person you’re working with and what motivates them rather than just their organisation, and seeking out common ground to deliver a positive difference. Getting anywhere in life or in business relies on building those genuine connections.

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 suspect if you asked anyone with a 30 year+ career, regardless of sector, if they’ve experienced inequalities, whether on the grounds of gender, age, religion or background, the vast majority would be able to cite examples in some shape or form. It’s how we each respond that’s key, addressing any such behaviour in an appropriate and timely manner, as ignoring it is effectively condoning it.

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date? 
For me, rather than one specific thing, it’s the small wins I’m most proud of. Re-setting the tone. Using every available opportunity to increase understanding about the sector. Moving the dial towards greater perspective and proportionality. It all takes time, and we still have a long way to go, but it’s beginning to happen with signs of a slow building of trust on both sides of the argument.

What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career? 
For those just starting I’d say: ‘Jump right in’. This is a passionate, high-energy, hard-working sector that’s crying out for like-minded people. So, ask yourself what you can bring, how can you make the biggest difference and don’t be limited by anyone – including yourself. It’s a challenging sector, without doubt, but if you come up against obstacles, take a pause and find a path through because that, in essence, is what the sector does.

For those already in sector, I’d encourage developing as broad a perspective as possible. Draw from what and who is around you, and look outwards at the wider company, sector and other sectors rather than just inwards at your own area, as we need different perspectives to help identify and deliver new solutions.

What do you think will be the key drivers/areas for innovation for Scottish aquaculture in the next decade? 
Improving fish biology has to remain our key focus. That’s the big one. What more can we do – or what should we do differently – between putting fish into water to harvesting them out again that will improve health and welfare? Who, outside of those working directly within the sector, has the research, science and engineering solutions to help deliver those advances? What calculated risks are we willing to take, as innovation in practice needs innovation in thinking and collaboration? Answering each of those, and improving survival as we do, is uppermost.

Read more interviews from the WiSA Award winners