Interview with Louise Buttle

After completing a PhD in the African catfish, Louise joined EWOS in 1996, working as R&D Manager in Chile, part of the Global Sustainability Team for Cermaq Group and the Cold Water Technology Application Lead with Cargill Aqua Nutrition but mostly with a focus on salmon.   In 2019,  Louise joined dsm-firmenich and has had different technical and marketing roles across the global aqua salmon and shrimp business, and today is the Sustell lead for Aqua and has Global Key Account responsibility.

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture
Aquaculture all started for me in the 3rd year of my Biology degree; at that time the course was a new and applied science, very commercially relevant which was really exciting and definitely the inspiration. This triggered my choice of PhD species, the African catfish – which was the species at that time that was going to feed the world. I managed to travel to Africa on an EarthWatch conservation project to Lake Naivasha in Kenya – and I made do with the tropical aquarium at Hull University for the PhD! I also spent six months at the Insititute of Oceanography in Santander with a Royal Society grant, so really an opportunity to combine science and living in Spain. So very much from the beginning aquaculture was a ticket for me to see the world.

Briefly describe your aquaculture career
It all started with EWOS Technology Centre in Scotland and I always say that I grew up professionally in EWOS Group (now Cargill Aqua Nutrition), where I worked from 1996 to 2019 (with a few breaks to have the kids; now 19 and 16). I basically followed salmon around the world, from Scotland to Chile and lastly to Norway (maybe still time for Canada and Tasmania?). In the beginning it was always technical roles, in R&D – but due to the nature of EWOS group at that time, I had loads of opportunities to work in cross-functional teams with people across the business units. This was highly varied, from quality management teams, marketing, different raw material category teams and sustainability teams for example. Working across the EWOS businesses, on varied initiatives was really a fantastic opportunity to learn from these expert groups and contribute. In 2019, I joined dsm-firmenich and have had some great roles including Global Technical Manager Aqua and Marketing Director Aqua. Today, I am a Global Key Account Manager and also leading Aqua business development for a sustainability software (SustellTM) and supporting a really exciting single cell protein project.


Which individuals or organisations in aquaculture have you found particularly inspirational?
There is so much great stuff going on! But just now I am really inspired by the current movement driving the visibility of blue foods (seafood from aquaculture and capture fisheries) as an important part of our global food systems. It seems sometimes that this is just getting started and there’s a lot of work to do. But for any of us working as aquaculture colleagues we are all part of this wider initiative and as an industry we have an important role to play in the big picture – which is how are we going to meet that demand of our global human population for 100 million tons of extra protein by 2050.

How important has networking been to your career?
Networking has always been important, but I think I have been better at it in some parts of my career than others. When you are part of a large organisation, the danger is that you don’t seek the outside in and are less open than you might be. But networking is actually the joy of our industry as it is small, and connecting with people, new, old, friends, colleagues brings me a lot of energy and great insight of course. With the January blues this year, I also connected with a few people on Linkedin for a virtual coffee, and pretty much always people accepted and these short conversations really added to the day. So thank you from me!


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 this is a really difficult question, and I would usually refer to myself as a Professional in Aquaculture rather than a Woman in Aquaculture. For me, my reality has been that during the first part of my career working in EWOS I did not feel any inequality in my workplace. Also, when I worked in Chile, I was just different – a foreigner, with a boy's name, a manager of 5 FTEs…. and female, that I never sensed inequality on a personnel level. But then, when in 2023 you rock up to one or two events and the sea of dark trouser suits hits you as you walk in, you think to yourself …what a wonderful world it would be?

In terms of actions, my opinion is that there should be more drive to bring diversity to senior leadership and board level and a higher turnover on boards.  But this has to be done in the right way, and to get the right people into these positions and the right mix – and this mix can be different depending on the strategy of the company/ and also at different times. This is a long-term goal, and it also has to be recognised that nothing will change overnight but needs to progress on a faster rate.

(By the way, there is a great book by Mathew Syned, called Rebel Ideas about diversity in organisations).

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date
In 2001, I moved down to Chile from Scotland and was R&D Manager for EWOS Chile. The first 6 months was undoubtedly the toughest time in my career, but I am really proud of what was achieved at the time in Chile. In the early days the challenges were anything from navigating culture, language and samplings to driving a monster truck in Puerto Montt (and then parking said monster in an underground carpark!).  But I had a real determination to set up the R&D facility and to deliver local applicable R&D that would bring value. Along with everyone’s support, surprisingly quickly, you adapt, and this experience changed the way I see the world and I will always be grateful to the guys at EWOS for the opportunity. I was in Chile in November last year, and it’s an incredible feeling to step off the plane after 20 hours of travel and feel very much at home on the other side of the world.

Recent trip to Chile with dsm-firmenich LATAM colleagues; Johana Quintero, Jorge Pavez, Eduardo Yamashita, Thiago Soligo, Diego Lima and Fernanda Kuschel. #teamappreciation

What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career?
First of all, know your fish biology. Biology and fish welfare challenges will continue to be the significant driver in costs for the industry and it does not matter how much management or finance education you have, if you don’t understand the vulnerability of your profit models to fish biology you will not last long.

My second advice would be to find your tribe. Those people that can mentor you, energise you, team up with you and challenge you, allowing you to develop professionally, are so key to a good time at work. Usually you find them, but sometimes you need to look in odd places.

And thirdly, don’t expect someone to tap you on your shoulder and say, ‘Hey- this is your career pathway for the next years’ – challenge yourself to find the right way forward and map out your future, a future that is going to make you satisfied. At times it is more difficult to do than others and often a balance with family life, but at the end of the day it’s your responsibility.

There are probably a few more, but I will leave it here and close with … just enjoy the best industry there is!

What do you think will be the key drivers/areas for innovation for Scottish aquaculture in the next decade?
In my mind, there are a couple of key drivers that should drive innovation around sustainable aquaculture in the future: sustainable raw materials, fish loss and waste, and ways to reach targets on environmental impacts such as GHG emissions and biodiversity (thinking about salmon aquaculture).  Fish health and welfare is fundamental to sustainable aquaculture growth within planetary boundaries, and really should be a baseline to all discussions around sustainability. So innovations addressing food loss and waste and sustainable raw materials in our industry are key going forwards. That being said, it's also evident that more stakeholder support is needed to nourish and drive this blue food industry of Scotland.


Footnote:  I currently live in England but my business roles are global (including Scotland).


Read other interviews