Interview with Emma Matheson

Emma Matheson has a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of North Wales, Bangor and a MPhil within aquaculture IPN vaccine development from the University of Aberdeen. She developed her career within feed, flesh quality, process technology, formulation and now industry certifications. She is currently Quality Systems Manager for BioMar and plays an important role within their Leadership Team. Emma is an active member of AIC Fish Feed Committee, Salmon Scotland Feed Team and Marin Trust Technical Assurance Committee.

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture? 

Well, I am not sure that I was initially inspired to become involved in Aquaculture, more that I sort of fell into it after completing my Biology Degree at University of North Wales, Bangor and then moving to Aberdeen to complete my MPhil studying vaccination development against Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN) in Salmonids. Through running vaccine trials, I got my first proper exposure to fish and fish farming and on completion of my dissertation, decided to move to Oban and work within the Quality Department of Hydro Seafoods GSP Ltd (now Scottish Seafarms). I thought I had the best job in the world – I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to travel around the stunning West Coast of Scotland, meeting numerous enthusiastic people, working outdoors in the extremely fresh air and checking on how the fish were performing on the run up towards harvest. I couldn’t have asked for a better office! I was hooked! 

Briefly describe your aquaculture career 

Whilst my first role in Aquaculture with Hydro Seafood GSP Ltd. was an absolute joy, it was to be short-lived. Unfortunately, Infectious Salmonid Anaemia (ISA) arrived, and it hit the Scottish salmon farming industry hard. Many people lost their jobs consequently and unfortunately, I was one of those. These things happen and after a short spell working in various positions at Dunstaffnage Marine Lab in Oban, I was lucky enough to land my dream job as Technical Advisor with BioMar Ltd. I was back to driving around Scotland, now including Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles and again enjoying working with fish farmers from across the country. As well as this, I had the added opportunity to put my laboratory knowledge to practise and to set up the BioMar QC lab for fish flesh testing in Grangemouth. 

From this role, I was promoted and became the formulator for BioMar UK as well as becoming a part of the R&D Team working on Production Process Technology. 

I have continued to grow within BioMar as both feed production and customer requirements have developed. Recently, my role changed again, and I am now Quality Systems Manager, responsible for an area of huge growth within the sector as the new ASC feed mill standard eventually comes to fruition. Although I have worked for BioMar for many years, my role has been extremely varied and has allowed me to stay but continue to develop in myself. Aquaculture is such a fast-moving industry; it continually provides opportunities for development in so many ways! 

Which individuals or organisations in aquaculture have you found particularly inspirational? 

Where do I start? There have been so many inspirational people that have influenced my career since I started with Hydro Seafood GSP Ltd all that time ago. Unfortunately, many of them are no longer working within the industry but I am sure that they will have inspired more than just me during their working lives. Guy Mace, being MD of Hydro Seafood GSP Ltd and then BioMar Ltd, had a massive impact on my career and I must have been doing something right for him to take me back on as Technical Advisor! Others are too numerous to mention, and I am conscious I would not want to miss anyone out! 

I learned to listen to people and to push myself outside my comfort zone - to take opportunities to grow as they came along. These nudges have come from all sorts of people in numerous roles / organisations over the years and I have learned that if you don’t take an opportunity then nothing will change and improve for you.  In fact, WiSA has given its own “nudge” to get me to present my mentoring journey in Edinburgh a couple of years ago. I would never have done that as a youngster starting out in my career! 

How important has networking been to your career? 

I love opportunities to catch up with the people that I have met over the years, especially at events like Aquaculture UK in Aviemore and various industry awards dinners. The industry is so small that relationships are important, and it is always interesting to see how people are developing and what they are up to. The same people move jobs but tend to stay within aquaculture and you never know where you will meet them again. Whilst I don’t believe that networking has directly had a role in boosting my career, it has certainly allowed me to meet some great people and to feel a part of something special.  

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? 

When I first started in the industry there were very few females seen out and about visiting fish farms and a female site manager was pretty much unheard of. Fortunately, these days are in the past and there have been so many positive changes with more females working in the industry. Organisations such as WiSA are making a difference which is great to see, and I am proud to be a part of that change. These days there are definitely improved company policies to address inequalities, such as family friendly policies, improved maternity understanding, flexible working etc. which were not so common when I started in my career. Hopefully this encourages more females to join the aquaculture industry and help continue to address the gender imbalance.  

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date? 

I am proud of so many things that I have achieved in my career, but a recent highlight has been taking part in the mentoring program within WiSA and seeing my mentee grow in herself through my advice. What a privilege to have that opportunity! 

What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career? 

Go for it! Aquaculture has so many varied roles that there is something for everyone. Find something you enjoy and develop yourself in that direction. Be in control of your own fun and make sure that you do just that – have fun! 

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

The next 10 years are going to be so exciting in the aquaculture world, for both feed and farming companies alike. Sustainability is the buzz word and will drive innovation in so many ways – with companies, including BioMar, setting incredibly ambitious targets for the future. What an amazing journey to be a part of! 


Read more interviews