Interview with Noelia Rodriguez

Noelia Rodriguez is RAS Operations Manager at Scottish Sea Farms and is a member of the WiSA network.

What inspired you to first become involved in aquaculture?

It was actually by chance, I moved to Shetland to do a three-month internship from my uni back home (University of Oviedo), I had a few destinations to choose from and chose Shetland! At the end of the internship they offered me a job so I started going back and forth to finalise my degree while starting my career in Aquaculture.

Briefly describe your aquaculture career

I started in Shetland as a trainee taxonomist for a short period monitoring environmental conditions of seabed under fish farms, then moved on to a two-year KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) Research Project as a Research Associate using Ballan wrasse for biological control of sea lice in salmon in the NAFC. When the project finished, I started with Scottish Sea Farms to transfer that knowledge gained and apply it to the sector. I worked as Fish Health and Production Biologist there, looking after health and biological performance of salmon in the sea pens for five years and I really enjoyed it, but I was ready for a new challenge, hence I moved on to be Freshwater Health & Welfare Manager in 2017, learning about freshwater as I went along. Then in November 2018, I got offered my current position of RAS Operations Manager for our new state-of-the-art hatchery in Barcaldine, definitely my biggest challenge to date, but one that I have found very exciting every step of the way.

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

There have been many inspirational people along the way. I find the aquaculture sector as a whole to be quite remarkable as the diversity in backgrounds is immense and it is a sector based on experience and knowledge. I have gained more knowledge from husbandry staff and farm managers than from many of my subjects in university. All the people I have met share the common goal of wanting to do the right thing for the fish under their care, are really passionate about what they do and have a real caring feeling for the animal.

How important has networking been to your career ?

Very important. It is during meetings, networking events and visits that you get to know people and share experiences. When you put the economics and confidentialities aside there is a nice openness in the sector and a shared goal to do well and ensure fish welfare is optimal, and people are happy to share their knowledge. I have made contacts in Scotland, Norway, Canada, Chile, Tasmania, Denmark and Spain, and I can pick up the phone to ask about something and everyone always tries to help in any way they can. All these connections will help you ‘access’ a large pool of knowledge which will help you in your own development. I also love being able to show them our facility, how it's working and discuss different ways of working.

What would you say to any women that wanted to progress their careers in the aquaculture industry?

I will say go for it, there is a variety of roles available that you can do and the limits are only the ones you set yourself. If you show what you can do,  and you are passionate about what you do, you will go far. There are plenty of opportunities and more and more women are now in the sector compared to 10 years ago, so by all means, come join us!

What’s your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date?

For me, it is definitely seeing the first fish transferred out of the RAS hatchery in Barcaldine. It was the culmination of years of work; some colleagues, like our Freshwater Production Manager Pål Tangvik, began planning the hatchery back in 2015. We were overseeing construction, learning the systems and rearing fish all at the same time which presented us with some challenges, but we worked through them as a team and the first batch delivered was just astonishing – double the size of previous outputs with amazing feedback from the marine farm managers which made us all very proud. The second batch has just finished and was even better. Also, I was recently shortlisted for Finfish Farmer of the Year at the Aquaculture UK Awards 2020 which was a great feeling. There were many entries and even being a nominee is a great honour.

Where do you think the focus of the industry should be in the next decade?

I think that maintaining the current focus of continuing to rear fish with the highest standards of fish welfare is crucial, as is ensuring we do it in a sustainable way with minimal impact on the environment in which we farm. The world needs sources of protein to feed the growing population and we need to ensure we deliver this in the best possible way.

Find out more about aquaculture careers