Production planning just like a “fish puzzle”

April 23, 2012

By Gina Forsyth

For Stephen Budgeon, Technical Manager, and Juan Carlos Sanchez-Millar, Freshwater Planner, the end result of their jobs is ensuring that customers consistently have fresh fish at the correct size when they need it, no matter what time of year.

In its simplest form, a production plan is the timetable for when fish move and where they go, whether it’s from freshwater to salt water, from site to site, or from the sites to the processing plant. It’s the blueprint for the company and determines labour requirements, processing dates, harvest and transfer boat schedules as well as the need for equipment such as compressors, nets, and generators throughout the fish’s life cycle.

Production planning focuses on an 18 month window, although it can extend further. “It’s a lot like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle and making sure all the pieces fit at the right time,” said Stephen.

“I put it in my order with Juan Carlos for the amount of fish I need throughout the year to meet demand and he does his planning based on that number,” said Stephen. If salt water planning is described as “forward planning,” freshwater planning is best described as “backward planning”. Stephen knows what his future needs are – the forward part of the equation – and for Juan Carlos, he ensures that a sufficient number of smolts of a specific size are ready for salt water introduction to eventually achieve the harvest size and time  specified in Stephen’s plan.    

Juan Carlos can regulate fish growth to match Stephen’s outcomes through careful control of water temperature. Where smolts are grown is also an important part of the puzzle. “Ocean Falls hatchery has cooler water because it’s further north than our other hatcheries so we have to make sure it’s stocked earlier in order to give the smolts sufficient time to reach the needed size,” said Juan Carlos.

“We’re working with live animals so there’s always the potential for change,” he explained. He always has to take into account the ‘what if’ question and ensure he considers the inevitable loss of a small percentage of eggs, fry, and smolts. This means you start with more eggs than you need to account for those who may not survive.

Such high level and complicated planning means Juan Carlos is in constant communication with Stephen and the hatchery managers. The detailed data is tracked using both Excel and, in Stephen’s case, Aqua Future, software that uses water temperature and other data to calculate and predict fish growth and survival.