Improving the health and welfare of fish and making them grow faster

Dr Sunil Kadri’s company, OptoSwim Technologies, produces a system for exercising fish in fish farms
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The Independent Online

He would like to win British Airways flights to South America, the second-largest market in the world for his company’s products after Norway, to attend and make contacts at trade fair AQUA SUR 2010.

Kadri, who’s originally from Rotorua in New Zealand but is now based in Glasgow, is a fish behaviourist and founded OptoSwim Technologies in October 2007 with fellow academic Neill Herbert. Herbert remains a director of the company but has since returned to academia, leaving Kadri to bring their product to market.

“Fish farmers need to reduce production costs, maintain health and welfare, and produce consistently good flesh quality,” he says. “It’s been known for some time that fish benefit from exercise, so we starting developing a way to exercise them in sea cages like those used in the Scottish salmon-farming industry.

“We use lights at night to create the appearance of movement, which stimulates the fish to move. It’s like a person going to the gym – the more you go, the healthier you are and the better you feel. Fish are the same – their flesh is firmer and has less fat and more muscle if they exercise. They also grow faster, so you can reduce the amount of feed required for the same amount of growth.”

While OptoSwim’s light system is now producing results in fish-farms trials, it’s still being redesigned and won’t be launched officially until next year. Needless to say, developing it has not been all plain sailing.

“2008 was a tough year for us,” says Kadri. “We weren’t getting the response we wanted from our trials, an investor pulled out because of problems with his investments, Neill went back to academia and I felt like the last man standing, with two new staff members and their salaries to pay, so that was a real low.

“It took me most of the year to find new investment, but then things started looking up and in April this year, we got a call from a site manager at a fish farm trialling our system, telling us that our fish were the biggest on site, which was a big high because we didn’t know if it was working.”

Kadri recently won the 2009 ShortList O2 X Male Entrepreneur of the Year award and with it £5,000 and a year of mentoring by self-made millionaire Shaf Rasul of Dragons’ Den Online.

“I met Shaf in early November and it was great,” says Kadri. “He came up with some really good ideas and contacts straightaway. I didn’t realise until after I’d won the award that the prize included the business mentoring and I’m so glad it did because there’s nothing more valuable than a year with someone like him.”

Having heard about the Great Britons competition from his girlfriend, Kadri is keen to win flights to South America to promote his fish-exercising system. “I haven’t been to AQUA SUR since 2002, so it’s important to me to go because the personalities change and new generations come through. I’m very keen to engage with these people and make contacts.”

On being short-listed for Great Britons, he says: “It’s fantastic, although I’m a little concerned about going cap in hand to friends, family and colleagues for votes again! This has come not long after winning Male Entrepreneur of the Year, securing more funding and getting interest in trialling our system from a major customer, so even though I’ve come close to losing heart at times, things are really looking up.”