Interview with Tara McGregor-Woodhams

Tara has over 30 years' experience of building brands and running high profile marketing communications strategies for FTSE 100 clients in the UK and internationally. Prior to joining Ace Aquatec, she headed up Brand strategy and Marketing Communications teams at Aegon and Standard Life. She has also led full-service agency teams on a broad range of clients including Shell, Diageo, Adidas Salomon, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Cadbury Schweppes, Pfizer, O2, Coca Cola, Rolls Royce and BUPA both in the UK and India.

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture?
I was at the point in my career where I wanted to work for a small business who was trying to do something different. I wanted to work with a company that didn’t greenwash and really cared about it’s people and the communities it worked with. My father had a family-run Animal Feeds business which pioneered organic feed back in the 1960’s. McGregor’s had a loyal customer base in the UK as my Dad formulated each type of feed using the highest quality raw materials to maximise animal health. I remember him telling me that welfare needed to be the number one priority for any business involving animals and fish because it impacts biodiversity, human health, and business sustainability. So when I was approached about the role at Ace Aquatec, I was intrigued to learn how they were revolutionising aquaculture via welfare-improving technologies.

Since joining, I’ve seen first hand the value our award-winning in-water electric stunners bring to farms by guaranteeing humane harvesting. Our new biomass cameras also provide farmers with accurate biomass of their fish as they grow, helping improved feeding and harvesting. And our acoustic devices provide welfare-first sound technology to protect marine environments.

At 84, my Dad is amazed about how far the industry has come when I tell him about our AI cameras mapping fish!

Briefly describe your aquaculture career
I started working at Ace Aquatec in October 2020 as Marketing Director and became Chief Sales and Marketing Officer in Jan 2022, so I’m a relative newbie to the sector. My background and expertise is building brands and running high profile marketing and sales strategies for a number of FTSE 100 clients in the UK and internationally.

Prior to joining Ace Aquatec, I headed up Brand strategy/Marcoms teams at Aegon and Standard Life and led full- service agency teams for clients including Shell, Diageo, Adidas, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and Cadbury Schweppes in the UK and India.

Which individuals or organisations in aquaculture have you found particularly inspirational?
Amy Novagratz from Aqua Spark is a real trailblazer for the sector. She is a brave and imaginative leader who has invested in many small technology businesses (including Ace Aquatec) and is a vocal advocate for welfare and sustainability. I also think Heather Jones has done an amazing job at SAIC in supporting projects that have a collective mission and focus on progress not perfection, sharing best practices and supporting others to create a virtuous circle across businesses of all sizes. And finally, Donald Buchanan at SSF. I’ve learnt a lot from visits to Scottish Sea Farms and listening to Donald speak to clients. He’s very forward thinking, knowledgeable and passionate about producing a high quality product with high welfare standards and a low carbon footprint.

How important has networking been to your career?
I have to do a lot of networking as part of my role at trade events, conferences and with customers. It’s absolutely vital if you want to build relationships with key customers and investors, find new business opportunities, learn about best practice and stay up-to-date with industry trends. I have learnt a lot about the industry in a short space of time through conversations with other professionals at industry events and from visiting farms and processing hubs. I love technology, but no digital channel will ever beat face-to-face interactions.

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?
Having spent the majority of my career working marketing/communications roles in different sectors where women are well represented, it’s interesting coming into an industry where women are in the minority and not as visible in senior roles. Inevitably there is unconscious bias and I’ve heard from other women about the proof-versus-potential barrier they faced when trying for a promotion. So if we want change, from organisations and executive boards right down to individuals, we all need to be willing to challenge stereotypes, champion diversity, and create working environments that allows everyone to thrive and progress.

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date?
Launching our A-biomass camera at AquaNor this year after 5 years in development and seeing the immediate benefits it is bringing to our clients across the globe.

What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career?
The best strategy for breaking into a new industry is to meet people in that industry. Research industry organisations and get involved. Become a member, join a committee, go to the events. Meet your new peers, learn about their work and care about their work. Then leverage your experience and transferable skills to find opportunities that match your professional calibre. I have an unconventional career trajectory into aquaculture but having an outside perspective has helped my organisation innovate and grow.

What do you think will be the key drivers/areas for innovation for Scottish aquaculture in the next decade?
Looking at the UN’s sustainable Development Goals, Scotland’s aquaculture companies should aim to lead the way in terms of zero hunger; responsible consumption and production, climate action and really understanding life below water. We’re focused on creating technologies that reduce wastage and prevent excess mortalities in the fish production chain in order to create greater yields and therefore more food to feed the world from its scarce resources. Ace Aquatec’s welfare- first solutions provide visibility and improvements across the production cycle, helping farmers to responsibly care for their fish as well as deliver quality food to market. So I’d like to see Scotland embrace technology that enables better fish farming practices and protects marine ecosystems to ensure that human activities can safely coexist alongside the natural environment.