Interview with Ruth Cacharrón

Ruth Cacharrón is a Galician Biologist and Aquaculturist working in hatcheries, with an aquaculture nutrition and veterinary background. She is well-known for always being in the middle of a course!

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture? 

I come from a family of fishermen, and since childhood we were involved in sea-related topics. I am an absolute fan of knowing how things work, which explains my biology career, and when I discovered that something like aquaculture existed my curiosity just took the wheel. I believe that being able to take care of an organism from egg to harvest, including all the systems involved, is an amazing job! 

Briefly describe your aquaculture career 

When I was doing my aquaculture course, I did my practice in a charity in Cornwall working with local fishermen. We were taking care of female lobsters and hatching the larvae in their facilities, to increase the survival rate in the first stages before letting them free in the same area they were picked. Once I finished my practice, the same charity hired me to take care of a new hatchery, a prototype of “hatchery-in-a-tin” in Newlyn harbour. 

Once the funding ended, I was offered a job as Production Manager in a farm in Poland, taking care of arctic charr and rainbow trout.  

After two and a half years working really hard in Poland, I decided to take the next step in my career, so I accepted a job as Senior Hatchery Technician in Ireland, in a lumpfish hatchery. Now I am the Hatchery Supervisor in the same facility, learning and improving my skills. 

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

There are too many to name! I get inspiration from the ice-breakers, the ones that go one step ahead on new species, new facilities, or any kind of challenge. I think that being brave enough to go away from the well-trodden path is a test of character, so I particularly enjoy reading about all the small companies that make amazing discoveries after a ton of trial-and-error. They make me feel curious, inspired and more than a bit jealous! 

How important has networking been to your career? 

Aquaculture is a really small world, and everyone knows everyone. For me it is really important, not just in searching for a job but because you will learn a lot from other people in the industry. I have to say that I feel really lucky, being surrounded by very talented people who are always happy letting me learn from them and answering my questions (a lot of them!). I believe in teamwork, so I am always happy giving a hand every time I can, even when I am very conscious I am still a “padawan” in this 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 think we are already breaking the imbalance between sexes, with more women joining the aquaculture world every day. Nonetheless we should keep up the good work, giving the position to the most suitable and skilled worker with no regard to their personal circumstances.  

The only moment I felt some kind of inequality due to my sex was when I started working in Poland. I went there as Production Manager for a farm with an existing team. I can totally see what my workers (farmers, strong Polish men) saw the first time they saw me: a petite really young woman who couldn’t even speak Polish. And she was going to be their boss! I am fairly sure they had bets about how much time would pass before I surrendered. What I saw was a bunch of people obviously quite unhappy about having a young woman as boss. I have to say that I had to work very hard with them to make them understand I was a part of the team, but I am also very happy knowing that after a couple of months of adjustments we worked quite well together. I am still in touch with them, and I consider them my friends now. 

I believe we need to improve the balance between work and family though. This sector is a very demanding one, especially in terms of alarms and emergencies, and sometimes it makes it difficult to be able to combine a good quality family life and a successful career. In my opinion, we shouldn't need to choose between work and personal life; it must be feasible to have both. 

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date? 

That I am a “Jackie of all trades”, indeed. When I started in this world, I had a lot of theoretical knowledge and a bit of “how things must be done” mentality, and “by the books” was the answer. With just a couple of months in a pair of wellies and my oilskins I started doing more than looking at books and taking notes, and even though I know this can sound silly I am really proud of being the one that knows how a pump is in the books, how a pump is in reality, and can help any member of her team while changing a pump. 

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

Never stop learning and always keep your fire. This is sometimes a really hard sector, with long days and where things can go very wrong, very very fast. It is also a job that amazes me nearly every day when I discover something new or just have the satisfaction of a job well done. We need to be passionate about what we do, because this is the only way we will enjoy our career in aquaculture. One of my former mentors used to say, “No-one enters aquaculture to be rich”, and I absolutely agree with that; this sector is full of passionate, hard-working, and talented people, and we need to continue being exactly like that.  

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

Improving the diets and the protocols for the species we already work with and developing new strategies for new species and for the challenges that come with them (diets, diseases, and new systems). Climate change is going to make us improve the way we do things, so we need to start developing new plans to be able to adapt our work to the always changing world. Nothing is set in stone, and we should aim for continuous improvement of our work. 

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