TalentView: Eleanor Lawrie

TalentView: Eleanor Lawrie

"Basically, if there's water… I'm there!", so ends Eleanor Lawrie's introduction on her LinkedIn profile. To that, we add that when you're always near water, sometimes it's inevitable that you'll get carried away by the current. But the good thing about going with the flow is that it can take you to places you might never have imagined, like becoming Mowi Scotland's first female deckhand.

When she graduated from the Scottish Association For Marine Science (SAMS) with a degree in Marine Science she was already interested in fishing and aquaculture, but her passion for shipboard work came later, exactly 9 months before she got it. Time enough to give rise to a new life, hers on a workboat. In this same LinkedIn profile, Eleanor says that she enjoys "any task related to the sea, even in the smallest way", and so it is, but after talking to her we can say that there is one she enjoys the most. Since she gets paid for it, let's call it a job, but as she talks about it, we might as well call it passion.

From university to farm

Two days after starting her new position, Ellie – as everyone knows her – shared it on LinkedIn with a post in which, among other things, she said that she had never been so excited to start a new job. "I've been dreaming of getting on a workboat for what feels like a lifetime now (9 months) and I still don't quite believe it", she claimed, finishing by saying that "all it takes is some hard work, determination and a bit of pestering" (accompanying this last part with an emoji tearing up with laughter).

Ellie, as a student, doing a water sample grab on a volunteer excursion during university.

"When I was in university, I wanted to go into ocean acidification and save the world from climate change, although I also had a very keen interest in fisheries and overfishing", she tells us. This interest led her to do an Erasmus+ exchange in the Netherlands and, during a semester, she studied fisheries and aquaculture and learned "a lot about how we could supply fish to the ever-growing population through aquaculture". When she was finishing up at university her plan was still to continue her studies in climate change but, that of being close to the water and being carried away by the current, "just as term was rounding up, and I hadn't found a route to take through climate change, I was told about a job going at Scottish Sea Farms".

It was a position in the quality department in processing, and also what got her into the salmon industry. "I realized I was much more suited to industry rather than research", she remembers. And continues, "I loved it here but after a round of redundancies, I went to work on sites and eventually landed myself as a Farm Technician at Mowi, which was great. We had a fantastic wee team and I got loads of new experience, particularly doing overtime on the workboats!". So, there it was… Ellie's dream job was at her fingertips.

From farm to workboat

When Mowi Scotland announced Eleanor's new position, she stated that getting into the boating side of fish farming had not been easy, but that from the first time she was sent to cover a shift she knew that this was what she wanted to do and was determined to get it. Then we ask her if it was difficult, and she honestly answers: "Yes, but it was worth it, and all the obstacles I faced just made me more determined that this was what I wanted to do". Eleanor had to face two main obstacles. The first was that she was highly valued in her position on the farm. Does anyone want a good partner to leave? Nobody, neither do hers and so she had to prove that she was more valuable to the company on the workboats rather than as site staff. The second was the competition for the job. "There is also generally quite a high number of applicants for deckhand positions", she explains, "so you really do have to be on the top of your game".

Eleanor Lawrie liked her previous job but is excited about the new one. "Every day is different, you could end up in a different part of the country by the end of your shift. It's a lot of the bigger stuff, like maintaining the cages, doing harvests, etc.", she says. "On site, it's very much about the fish health and welfare. This is also considered on the boats, but we don't tend to do many tasks involving the fish, and if we do there are people from the sites there to monitor the welfare. We do much more of the 'mechanical' and heavy work", she explains. "Our work really varies day to day, and we get to go to different sites depending on where we are needed most. I really enjoy the fact that I've done almost a year on various boats and never had two shifts that are similar. I would still say that new things crop up on sites all the time, but it is certainly more routine on the sites than it is on the boats".

Ellie, during her work in a Mowi Scotland sea farm.

That variety, the newness of each new day on a workboat is what Ellie appreciates most about her position as a deckhand, but not the only thing. "I also really appreciate working in a smaller team – 2 people on a boat -, as it's a lot easier to get into a working rhythm and get your own input", she claims. "I'd previously struggled with voicing my ideas and lacked confidence in my own ideas, but in a team of only two people, I quickly got over that hurdle as you only have each other to bounce ideas off".

Women on board

As said, Elleanor Lawrie is the first female deckhand at Mowi Scotland. When she found out, she wasn't too surprised. "I had spent quite a lot of time covering shifts on the boats and hadn't seen any other women", she says. What perhaps surprised her a little more was the hype surrounding the news but being the first in something always brings attention. "It's definitely more of a responsibility, I never pictured myself giving interviews and ending up in magazines", she tells us, and she hopes this won't last long, "hopefully more women do start coming across to this side of things!"

"I'm not the first woman within Mowi to do work on the workboats", she emphasizes, "farm technicians are quite often sent to other sites/departments to assist while their sites are fallowed (empty), and as it is not so rare to see women on the sites, other women have covered the role, but I am the first permanent female deckhand". And she ends, "so, I do have to give a shout out to all the female farm technicians who have done some work on the boats, and hopefully, if they found it as great as I do, encourage them to follow in my footsteps and make the leap onto the boats".

Eleanor Lawrie, the first female deckhand at Mowi Scotland, working aboard the Ailsa Craig.

To achieve this, they will undoubtedly count on Mowi's support, which aims to achieve a gender balance of 50/50 among employees by 2025. The company is on its way with 39.5% women right now, but we wonder if it will be easy to transfer this equity to all job families or if will there be some, like this deckhand position for example, where it may take more time. "It probably will take a bit more time", says Eleanor, but she qualifies, "just because it's not a path that has many women in it yet, but I hope that as more women do get in, it will encourage women who hadn't considered it as a career path yet. I've met quite a few women in my time on the sites so it's not much of a jump to make it onto the boats".

The people and the sea

Talking about women's presence not just in Mowi, but in the industry, Ellie shows optimism: "There's a few of us already on the sites so I think that can only increase". As she sees it "there's absolutely no reason why women shouldn't feel they can join the industry, the opportunity and support is there, as well as it being a great role for anybody who is interested in animals and the outdoors". Opportunity and support, two words that, as we see it, are directly related to another one, people. At WeAreAquaculture we are convinced that behind every professional career there are always people, just like Eleanor. "I owe a lot to the people who I have met within Mowi to where I am now", she claims.

In fact, the company's website says, "People make Mowi", so we asked Ellie how she feels about it. "I have had a lot of support from the skippers I have worked with through covering. When I first started covering it was a completely different world and I felt like I was making mistakes all over the place, but quite quickly gained my confidence with their support", she tells us. And continues, "I've previously worked somewhere where the people certainly were an obstacle and it made me really appreciate what it is like to work for a company with good morale and a healthy working environment. I totally agree that people make Mowi. With the challenges we face on the west coast of Scotland, – i.e., weather -, a good attitude is really important. The work can be tough sometimes, so it is so important that everyone looks out for each other and keep morale high".

But it's not just the people, another point in Mowi's business philosophy is that they claim to work "in harmony with the sea". How does that influence someone who claims that "if there's water… I'm there!"? "It is so important to remain in harmony with the sea as that is where our fish grow, and it provides us with the water to grow our healthy fish", she says, and adds, "there's been so much research into how to best farm salmon without having a detrimental impact on the surrounding seas, so by utilizing this research we are able to produce a great product without harming the world around us". A job that is done in the sea, but also by the sea. "One point of the 'Blue Revolution Plan' is to reduce plastic impact on the sea, so to combat this we have regular beach cleans around our sites. There is an official beach clean once a year, but we also find it's a good task to keep us busy when it's a slow day on the sites. I've done 3 or 4 since I started at Mowi last April", Ellie tells us.

Ellie cleaning the beach, as part of Mowi's 'Blue Revolution Plan'.

As we said at the beginning since she gets paid for it, let's call it a job, but as Eleanor Lawrie tells it, we might as well call it passion. This sea lover, a bit shy when speaking, is quite the opposite when it comes to describing her new life on a working boat. Passionate and optimistic, she is confident about her bright future, and so are we. Hopefully, in a couple of years, we'll be interviewing the first skipper on a workboat at Mowi Scotland.

About Mowi Scotland

Present in 17 countries, Mowi fulfills one-fifth of the global demand for farm-raised Atlantic salmon, "constantly driven by innovation and the desire to achieve the highest standards of sustainability". The company is the only salmon producer with full internal control of its own genetics, feed, farming operations, harvesting, processing, logistics, sales, and marketing. Mowi Scotland raises its salmon in Scottish Highland waters and employs 1,500 staff, with 48 farms that produce over 68,000 tonnes of salmon annually. Its products are primarily sold within the United Kingdom – it is the UK's largest supplier of farm-raised salmon -, besides being the UK's most-valued food export, enjoyed by customers around the world.

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