Interview with Laura Rubio Martinez

Graduating from the University of Murcia in Marine Biology, followed by an MSc in Aquaculture, Laura began a PhD in 2008 at the University of Stirling with EWOS Innovation as a sponsor. The PhD was in the use of functional feeds to alleviate the impact of virally-induced inflammatory diseases in Atlantic salmon, with special focus on HSMI and CMS. After a year as a researcher on the EU project ARRAINA, focusing on the reduction of fish meal and fish oil in aquafeeds, Laura joined Mowi. Beginning as a Formulator, she progressed to Research, Development and Technical Manager and is now in charge of the coordination of all the Mowi Feed research projects in Norway and Scotland.

Briefly describe your career

My career in aquaculture started when I did my PhD at the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling. Most of the fish trials in my PhD were held in Norway though, since the sponsor of my PhD was Ewos Innovation.  This international set up, and the great opportunity to work with both a big feed company and one of the best reference centres in the world for salmon nutrition research, was a big step in my career and to grow as a person.

Right after the completion of my PhD, I started a postdoc position at the IoA in Stirling, in a multinational project funded by the EU. But after the first year, Mowi (known then as Marine Harvest) offered me a position as a formulator in the new feed division that the company created at that time, so I started to work for them in 2013 as I was quite interested on doing applied research. I moved then to a remote place in Norway, where the fish feed factory was being built, starting my industry journey. After a year and a half, I got promoted to my current position of R&D Manager of Mowi Feed, being part of the Management team. I then moved to the headquarters of the company in Bergen. Currently, I manage both our trial stations in Norway and Scotland and coordinate all the research agenda of our department.

How do you see aquaculture in Scotland compared to other producers’ countries?

In my opinion, Scottish aquaculture has a lot of potential to keep growing, maintaining the good quality of their products, however, compared with other countries, like Norway, I believe its development is more challenging because of the wrong / bad perception that a big part of the Scottish society has about aquaculture.

Unfortunately, there is more bad press regarding some of the challenges that we have to face in aquaculture in Scotland than in Norway, where the people, in general, embrace the salmon industry as one of the most important in their country, after the oil business. I hope that changes a bit with the contribution of organisations like SAIC.

Are there any individuals or organisations in aquaculture, research, etc. who you’ve found particularly inspirational?

Well, perhaps because I met them at the beginning of my career, and also at that time of my life where I left my comfort zone in Spain, where I am from, I would say that the two people that  have  influenced the most the way I am now professionally, are the supervisor of my PhD, Douglas Tocher and a senior researcher that was at that time my “non-official” supervisor, Sofia Morais. They are both really dedicated to their aquaculture research careers and showed me not only how to do high quality research but also to keep a global vision on the work we do.

How important has networking been to your career?

Networking has been really crucial for me, to have the position I have today and to keep a global vision on the research we do in Mowi Feed. We collaborate with research institutions from many different places in the world in both private and public projects thanks to the wider range of contacts me and the team have.

For many women trying to move up the career ladder they can be met with inequality challenges. Can you give an example of a discriminatory situation and how you dealt with it or how to avoid it?

I don’t have any particular experience in this regard. However, I must say that, in general, Norway is a country in where the gender equality is a reality that you can see, not only “on paper” but also in the attitude of most of the people I have come across since I moved in 2014.

You are having a successful career; what’s your proudest achievement to date?

I believe the proudest achievement was to be brave enough to get out of my comfort zone, living in different countries, including very remote places, to get to the position I have now in Mowi, the biggest producer of salmon in the world. I feel very lucky to have the position I have which really fulfils my aspirations when I chose to have an aquaculture career.

How do you see the role in aquaculture in helping us and our planet to adapt to climate change?  

Being a relatively young industry, compared with the other animal farming industries, I believe the aquaculture industry has grown in a more sustainable way than the others, especially in Europe. My knowledge is more focused on salmon aquaculture and I’m proud to say that the whole salmon farming industry from feed suppliers to producers, is really focused on being as sustainable as possible. More specifically, Mowi has defined real targets to reduce its carbon footprint in all the different levels in production because we are fully conscious of the responsibility we have with our planet given the size of our company.  

What is the message you would send to the aquaculture industry?

Because the aquaculture industry is such a wide and diverse business, it is difficult to have a common message for those working with tilapia or shrimp compared with those working with salmon. But perhaps, a general message, would be to encourage them to keep growing in a sustainable way, motivating people to consume seafood as the most healthy protein option in our diets.

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