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Pete Bevington

24 April, 2008

The unique flexi panel allowing greater efficiency at fish farm harvesting.A SHETLAND/Norwegian partnership is taking over the latest assets to be sold from the ill-fated cod farming business No Catch, which folded in February with debts worth £40 million.

Vidlin man John Johnson and Norwegian company Viking Atlantic announced yesterday (Wednesday) that they were purchasing Grading Systems, which had been owned by the No Catch group until it called in the receivers.

Grading Systems produce a unique “flexi-panel” that can separate large and small fish, allowing for greater efficiency at fish farm harvesting time.

The product, which is manufactured at a factory in the Shetland village of Vidlin, is patented in 30 countries. Over the past eight years the company has grown to achieve annual sales of around £1 million.

Mr Johnson is a brother of the company’s original owners Angus and Ivor Johnson and has been running the factory for the past six years, working since 2005 for No Catch. Production stopped when No Catch went under, but restarted yesterday with the original workforce.

Viking Atlantic has been the main distributor of the flexi-panels in Norway, the product’s biggest. Managing director Carsten Wangsmo said business was steadily growing world-wide, and ironically he has just sold the first flexi-panel to a Norwegian cod farm.

Yesterday’s announcement secures the six jobs at the Vidlin factory, which will be run by Mr Johnson.

Meanwhile his brothers’ new fish farming business Green Island Organics have purchased the former No Catch offices in Vidlin from administrators Grant Thornton, and are in the process of moving back into their original offices.

No one yesterday was prepared to reveal the sums involved, but Grant Thornton have already sold the cod farms sea sites and equipment to salmon farming giants Hjaltland Seafarms and Scottish Sea Farms for around £7 million.

The No Catch trout business has been sold for a six figure sum to two of the company’s former employees Gordon Johnson and Robert Williamson, who have formed a new business called QA Fish.

Administrator Daniel Smith and Robert Caven are still trying to get rid of various mussel sites, a pioneering cod hatchery and around 400,000 cod still swimming in the cages which the salmon farms have bought.

Yesterday Mr Smith said he expected the mussel sites to be sold within the next week, but he said the sale of the hatchery was “fraught with problems”. Even so, he expected news on that front by early next month.

“Once it became clear we would not have one purchaser for the entire assets, the job has been putting bits together like a jigsaw puzzle to make sure one sale doesn’t preclude another,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Wangsmo confirmed that his company had bought the whole of Grading Systems and then selling 50 per cent of the shares to Mr Johnson.

He said that earlier he had looked into setting up a similar production line in Norway, but had simply been unable to replicate the quality of the Shetland operation.

“We have tried to produce this product in Bergen and different ways of doing it, but nothing is as good as what the situation is now. It is very high quality made by very skilled people, and as they say, don’t change a winning team,” he said.

The flexi-panels are becoming steadily more popular around the fish farming world, especially in Norway where new regulations mean tonnage at each farm site has to be limited. “They can skim off the large fish and keep stable with the maximum tonnage, creaming off the growth as they go,” he said.

The panels are used throughout the farmed salmon and trout industry in Scandinavia, Scotland and Chile, and with sea bream and sea bass in the Mediterranean. “We have sold the first panel for cod farming as we speak, and we will see how that is working,” he added.

Mr Johnson said the plan was to “just keep going as normal”.

Most recent update - Tuesday, 06 May 2008 17:07
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