Interview with Sarah Riddle, winner of the WiSA ‘Outstanding Contribution’ award, 2024

Sarah brings over 20 years’ experience to her current roles having previously worked at Scottish Sea Farms and Aquascot. In her work with Northern Light Consulting, Sarah has provided strategic support for organisations such as the Scottish Association of Marine Science and has helped many businesses to secure funding and deliver innovation, research and development projects in the aquaculture sector. As Director of Innovation & Engagement, Sarah leads SAIC’s ‘Driving Innovation’ activities, which include supporting a range of innovative R&D projects, drawing down third-party funding for sustainable aquaculture research, and providing extensive services to SAIC’s several hundred Consortium members.

What does winning the WiSA Award 2024 mean to you?
It was a surprise and a pleasure to receive this award. I have been fascinated with the sector since my first endeavours over twenty years ago and have never lost that interest and passion in contributing and aiding progress for the future. There is no wrong path to start a new career in this awesome sector; every day is a school day in the changing environment we operate.

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture?
I grew up as a land farmer’s daughter on the North East Coast of Scotland, as the sixth generation of farming in that location. Therefore, nurturing animals and the environment they thrive in has always been part of me from a young age. My mother had also been involved with the sector through her role in Highland Council as Head of Training and Development. Therefore, when approached to consider a career in aquaculture 20 years ago it was a really interesting conversation to pursue with lots to explore.

Briefly describe your aquaculture career
My introduction to aquaculture came as Commercial Account Manager for Marine Harvest (MOWI) and outwith the aquaculture industry (but still in food production/processing) my employers have included Mars Confectionery and Coca Cola.

I moved on to work for Scottish Sea Farms as UK Sales Manager, supporting the move away from spot market to long term contracts with major accounts including the development and launch of the unique M&S differentiated product (Lochmuir).

Then taking a sabbatical from farming I took on a role as Commercial Director for Aquascot, where I was responsible for commercial development and raw material procurement. Managing the dedicated Waitrose business, I worked with industry experts and suppliers to understand future consumer and flavour trends to exceed customer expectation in innovative product development. I was also responsible for sourcing policy and procedures and worked collaboratively with the Waitrose Primary Producers Group. During my tenure I successfully delivered 10 new “ready to cook” lines, growing the business from £24m to £36m annually without depleting existing sales.

Whilst working as Director of Innovation & Engagement for the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre, in the last four years I have increased consortium membership from 127 to 322 and am responsible for leading the delivery of 100 projects, leveraging over £20m in external funding.

In addition, I am proud to run our own family business, Northern Light Consulting, which is now 10 years old. Northern Light delivers both large capital projects to the industry, as well as providing strategic support for organisations. Over the past 10 years we have helped many businesses to secure funding and deliver innovation, research, process improvement and business development projects in the blue economy.

Which individuals or organisations in aquaculture have you found particularly inspirational?
Probably too many to list and unfair in case I failed to mention someone!

This sector, from farming, supply chain and retail, to support services, has a truly fascinating diversity of skill and drive for progression along with a passion to look after the animals in our care and to continually improve.

We are a young sector (just over 50 years old), the pace of development is exceptional, and we continue to attract new talent and utilise experience which will aid us to progress further in the future.

How important has networking been to your career?
Agreed this is important, and that it requires constant work. For me, this is natural and done with interest as I live in the heart of aquaculture in the UK and contribute to the community in so many ways (I am a football coach, the president of the Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, and Director of a local charity) and have many touch points with our sector.

There are more tools to aid networking, but we are a sector that likes people and therefore don’t forget the old school methods and value in person meetings and a call on the phone.

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?
No, I have found it a sector which welcomes all. Get stuck in, embrace the variety of opportunities and it will serve you well.

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date?
Can I have a few achievements please, it’s been a few years in the sector for me?!

Whilst with SSF, developing the first ever salmon farming exclusive product, Lochmuir, from concept to delivery.

With Northern Light, delivering the amazing complex freshwater operation from scoping location to delivery for SSF at Barcaldine which is a significant part of progressing the business.

At SAIC, driving development, reach and growth in consortium members and projects, and external funding leveraged to progress applied R&D and future proofing.

What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career?
Do your homework, ask questions and don’t be surprised at the variety of roles in the amazing sector. Don’t just think farming, look at the supply chain.

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

  • Sustainable growth of the sector – improved fish health
  • Alternate solutions to complement open net pens - contained systems in the sea
  • Post smolt production allowing a larger baby to go to sea
  • Further vaccine development
  • Circularity of waste and local solutions

Collaboration will be key to enable all of the above.

Read more interviews from the WiSA Award winners