A problem at our Smokehouse

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Forgiveness – what an odd way to start to write about what has happened in our smokehouse. I guess you will be thinking that it is about the people that work in our smokehouse and made some mistakes and probably some bad decisions, as did I. But that is not what I am talking about. Let me explain:

In August we discovered Listeria in our cold smoked salmon in an isolated part of the factory and we recalled and destroyed the batch. Bit by bit we discovered that it was appearing on different pieces of equipment but we were deep cleaning and assumed, wrongly, that we were going to get it under control. We failed and we have now recalled everything that could possibly be affected. People are involved here, good people. People who go to the work in the morning, have wives, husbands, kids and mortgages. They are faceless and silent to all but our customers and friends and they care about what they do.

This problem has the potential to severely disrupt lives. It has made people worry about their jobs and the future of the smokehouse. It has made people desperate to try to hold onto hope. So, yes, I made some decisions that were based on the hope that we would get control and I was wrong. Though the fish coming into the factory have always been clean, we could not eliminate the internal problem. We will get it out but it is going to take time and meanwhile we are going to have to produce our cold smoked and honey and thyme products through another smokehouse that has kindly volunteered their services. Flaky hot smoking will resume in South Uist and all of these products will be available again shortly.

On Sunday, a scurrilous article was written, driven by the usual groups, quoting the same names who work together to besmirch the name of any and all salmon farms. I was travelling with my wife and found that a rage was developing in me that these activists don’t have any concern for those people whose jobs they wish to take away. As we travelled home, I forgot that amazing things have happened in the last week. I forgot that I had been sitting with Fiona, who sells our smoked products and has been working long into the night talking to our customers. She took a call as we were sitting there and then looked at me with a sad smile and said “That was the buyer from XXX, (one of the multiples), they say they want to order 350Kg of Flaky and will wait till we are ready to produce again”.

Amazing, just amazing!

I forgot all the messages of support from producers, suppliers, and so many customers who know what our team is going through. I forgot what matters.

So the rage grew and by the time I got home, all I could think about was how to strike back at those who attacked us – the journalists, the activists etc. Left with this feeling, I decided to go for a run (not a pretty sight at my age but it keeps me fit-ish). As I was about 15 minutes in and, frankly, in my mind I had murdered several journalists and I won’t describe what I had done to the activists, I had a thought. They are speaking Swahili and we are speaking Chinese. I know it sounds stupid but they don’t know what we do and we can’t explain it to them. They see people who they can hate but in fact we are just people like them. I defy anyone who meets our staff not to like some of them if not most of them. They are good people. So I guess that these people haven’t met our staff and don’t get why we do what we do. It is their belief set against ours, which is not a very positive way to move forward.

We think that we are trying very hard to find better ways of farming and can demonstrate that, yet they do not accept this. I could say that they don’t want to listen but that’s the argument of someone who is angry. We have to do better. We have to be better at explaining  what we do and talk to people more. We have to justify what we do and why we do it. I don’t want to be crusading against activists. I want to be crusading forsomething. So I have to learn to forgive, not in some superior, righteous way but actually to try to understand how we fail to get our message across. We need to be better at explaining and less afraid of those who doubt or even wish that we do not exist. They have their views and are genuine too. I am not going to guarantee that I won’t lose my temper now and then but I will try to be more tolerant.

So in the next weeks I am going to try to work out how we can improve matters. I don’t expect that those who hate salmon farmers will turn around and want to give us a cuddle, but maybe we can find a way to a reasoned dialogue. If we can’t, the attempt will be worth it nonetheless.

The truth is, as sure as the fact that I will die one day, Loch Duart and salmon farming will go on. I don’t want to spend the rest of my existence hating someone else simply because they have an opposite view to me. I am not doing this because I am attacked for it is not about me. It is about those people who are not heard, who work day on day for Loch Duart, producing fantastic salmon the best way we can. If we are attacked in the press then we have not explained ourselves well enough. I am not going to say that it won’t be hard, but then nothing really worthwhile is ever easy. I have to forgive the fact that other people are angry with us and try not to let my anger get control. It is a credo I will try to live by but I may wobble now and then!!

Nick Joy
2nd October 2013