Interview with Matilda Lomas

Matilda is the Veterinary Practice and Cleaner Fish Manager for Bakkafrost Scotland. Having previously lived on the Isle of Harris, the importance to Scottish communities of employment through aquaculture was made even clearer when she joined the industry as a newcomer in 2014. Matilda is passionate about providing inclusive and empowering spaces for girls and women, and is a member of the WiSA Advisory Group.

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture?

I needed a job! Fish farming plays a crucial role in employment in many parts of the west coast so the offer of an exciting career was very appealing. I liked the idea of playing a part in growing a renowned Scottish product that embraces our wild environment. Rural communities have a great pride and I think that carries through to our livestock as well. Provenance is very important to Scottish aquaculture.

Briefly describe your aquaculture career

I joined as a complete newcomer and have picked up skills and new responsibilities along the way. I started as Biology Administrative Assistant for The Scottish Salmon Company; this was a great introduction to fish health and salmon farming. I said yes whenever I was fortunate enough to be given new challenges and I am now Veterinary Practice & Cleaner Fish Manager for Bakkafrost Scotland, since we were bought by the Faroese producer in 2019. I’m responsible for sourcing and coordinating the safe deployment and husbandry of our cleaner fish. I also manage our vet practice to ensure we’re treating our salmon effectively whilst meeting environmental and regulatory standards. I love the mix of logistical and financial planning and getting out to monitor the cleaner fish across our marine sites.

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

I’ve been very fortunate to have supportive managers and colleagues throughout my career. My biology team-mates at Bakkafrost Scotland work hard every day to maintain high welfare standards for the fish; we motivate each other to do our best.

How important has networking been to your career?

I remember when I was a complete newcomer to the sector, it could be nerve-wracking at events when you don’t know anything, let alone anyone! It can also feel daunting when you’re often the only woman in a meeting, the space doesn’t always feel like its been made for you. So I really value networking opportunities, including many that WiSA have hosted, it’s a chance to develop your career and create stronger bonds with colleagues in the sector.

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’ve helped women manage challenges in the workplace that I don’t think men would have had to deal with. I know women and men who are great ‘allies’ for women in aquaculture, it can be a big help to reach out to a colleague dealing with a problem or wanting to progress their career. Unconscious bias training across the sector could also tackle harmful prejudices we all carry, often without realising.

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date?

I relish the demands of this busy job and I like to think I work hard to get the best outcomes for our fish. But of course, here I have to speak of how proud I am of the work that WiSA does. As a member of its Advisory Group, I’m glad I get the opportunity to be part of such a supportive network. We know from members that we help women feel valued and treated equally. At the last count, women made up 11% of Scottish aquaculture so now we just need more of us to join!

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! It’s a small sector but we make a huge contribution to Scottish communities and economies. Everyone is so busy these days and a good work-life balance is important so sometimes you do have to say no to taking on something new. However, saying yes can so often lead to something exciting and challenging and I’m still in the aquaculture sector today because I put my hand up for new responsibilities.

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

Obviously I’m particularly interested in progressing the role of cleaner fish within aquaculture. The welfare of cleaner fish is as important as the salmon we farm and across the sector, there is continual development into how we best care for wrasse and lumpfish. It is a relatively new element of the sector but we already see great results in lice management so I think its important to keep the momentum in innovation for cleaner fish alongside salmon.



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