Ashleigh Currie has a PhD in Marine Science, and worked as fish health and welfare manager for Scottish Sea Farms in Shetland, then as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of West Scotland.
What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture?
It was actually by chance, I had recently returned from volunteering work in Nepal, had a PhD in Marine Science and no job. I came across an advert for an environmental scientist for Scottish Sea Farms and applied, not thinking I would get an interview. Surprisingly, during the interview, I was offered to apply for the Fish Health & Welfare Manager position, so after I read through the job description, I thought yeah this sounds pretty good and interviewed for that one instead. Now, working in aquaculture for 6 years, I’m definitely glad I did!
Briefly describe your aquaculture career
My first role was for Scottish Sea Farms in Shetland as Fish Health & Welfare Manager. I decided to leave SSF after 2 years, as I was determined to progress but couldn’t figure out how to at that time so transitioned into an academic role at the University of West of Scotland with a focus on fish haematology and developing diagnostic tools for industry. In 2020, I accepted a position with FiiZK – a supplier of aquaculture equipment and software – as business development for establishing the company in the Scottish and Irish markets. I’m also part of the FiiZK Fish Health team who provide client support on projects and to the FiiZK development team.
How important has networking been to your career?
I’ve been given lots of opportunities to attend events and I like a good old chat, so fortunately those two things have led to me building quite a strong network. It’s hugely helpful to take the time to get yourself noticed. But it can also be very daunting in a room of people and not really knowing where to go or who to talk to. I have always found a glass of wine helps in these situations but if not, if it gets overwhelming, I take myself off for a minute or two, take a deep breath then try again. Talking can lead to job opportunities, collaborations, a new mate or just give you a bit of confidence for the next time.
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?
Yes, there are certainly inequalities throughout the sector and this is a global issue. I hope that in Scotland we can start to make bigger changes when it comes to reducing the gaps in some of the major areas of inequality such as gender and income. The people that need to be driving these changes are the ones sitting in top management positions, HR and educators. I’ve been to seminars and workshops on gender inequality and yes, raising awareness will start to address at a social level, but the people making the hiring and financial decisions are the ones able to curtail these inequalities. Salaries for example should be based on ability and not gender.
What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date?
Hmm…I really hope I have some to come. I suppose I could say that I’ve been invited to speak at various conferences and seminars. I’ve sat on discussion panels and it’s nice to hear that the audience believes I know what I’m talking about. This has led onto some interesting discussions and collaborations. I’ve been involved in talks with international governments to discuss technologies for aquaculture policies and haven’t been laughed out of the room yet, so these are all positive experiences. I published a peer-reviewed paper on Anaemia in Scottish Aquaculture with a team of smart people whilst working as a post-doc at UWS. I’ve been a mentor for the WiSA Mentoring Programme and involved in career days for primary school kids, although they were more interested in sharks than salmon.
What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career?
Look for opportunities and make sure you follow them up. Even if you think you are unlikely to get the job, apply anyway; getting your name out there is just as important. Send in your CV to open calls. Put aside time to continue your professional development, attend workshops, conferences, seminars. Read. Keep building knowledge about your sector or another you are interested in. Spend time with your friends and family. Listen to your peers and colleagues. Talk to people and have a laugh. Be someone that your colleagues respect and like as a person. Set yourself a goal and find a path that helps you reach it.
What do you think will be the key drivers/areas for innovation for Scottish aquaculture in the next decade?
Innovation is driven by requirements in farming, regulation and society. There will always be a requirement to focus on the biggest threats to fish health and production whether that’s vaccine development or more advanced ways to monitor and understand environmental risk. Understanding the effects of climate change on aquaculture should receive more attention for long term investment. I believe we will start to see more focus on renewable energy in fish farming, utilising the space of the ocean and harnessing its power to move away from fuels and putting more emphasis on reaching net zero targets. All of this on top of the typical fight against sea lice and gill challenges. The scary thing is the list goes on and on, as it does in many industrial sized sectors. But there are a lot of smart people out there realising that their product can be applied to aquaculture and as long as there are funding opportunities and the farmer wants to learn more, then I think this is a sector that will continue to benefit from innovation.Read more interviews