A Mowi salmon farm in Chile. The Norwegian-owned company is one of 11 taking part in Project Yelcho.

Authorities sign up to Chilean salmon sector's bid to reduce antibiotic use

Support from state agencies is hugely significant, says Intesal chief


A salmon sector initiative seeking new solutions to prevent bacterial diseases and reduce the use of antibiotics in Chile has received backing from state fisheries and aquaculture agency, Sernapesca.

Eleven companies which together produce nearly 90% of Chile’s farmed salmon are involved in Project Yelcho, which started last year. The Salmon Council, and SalmonChile’s Salmon Technological Institute (Intesal), are also collaborating, and the project - which has not been publicised until now - is supported by data analytics provider Aquabench.

Yelcho recently signed a formal collaboration agreement with Sernapesca and Chile’s Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG), to further facilitate innovation and greater technical collaboration between authorities and the private sector.

Innovation can flourish

“This is the first public–private collaboration of its kind to catalyse innovation in our industry, and the involvement of SAG and Sernapesca in Yelcho is hugely significant,” said Esteban Ramírez, general manager of Intesal.

“The whole point of Yelcho is to create an environment in which innovation can flourish, and having the involvement of the two main governmental institutions that regulate the use of pharmaceutical treatments will undoubtedly add huge value to Yelcho.”

A heroic name to live up to

Project Yelcho is named after the small Clyde-built steam tug that rescued the crew of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, in 1916, after it was crushed by pack ice of the Weddell Sea.

The vessel was totally unsuited for operations in Antarctic waters. With no radio, no proper heating system, no electric lighting and no double hull, the small ship had to cross the 500 miles of the Drake’s Passage in Antarctic winter. Piloted by Luis Pardo Villalón, an officer of the Chilean Navy, Yelcho embarked on the near-impossible journey to rescue the 22 men from Elephant Island, after three prior attempts by other ships had failed.

Due to the successful rescue operation, the name quickly became synonymous with an unconventional approach and attitude in the face of adversity - an outlook Project Yelcho hopes to replicate.

Loreto Seguel, executive director of the Salmon Council, a trade body representing big players such as AquaChile, Mowi, Cermaq and Salmones Aysén, said the signing was evidence that the industry was united in an unprecedented public-private alliance “that not only values the aquaculture industry, but also validates us from a scientific perspective as companies that are permanently looking for ways to neutralise impacts”.


The project seeks new ways of working and aims to work closely to develop solutions for common bacterial diseases, including Salmon Rickettsial Syndrome (rickettsia, or SRS). Yelcho’s member companies have already been working closely with pharmaceutical companies to identify prospective areas for collaboration, with upcoming partnerships to be announced.

“Yelcho is a milestone moment in the Chilean industry’s commitment to working towards the reduction of antibiotic use, in line with the World Health Organisation’s antimicrobial resistance plan,” said project director David Farcas.

“Antibiotics can help prevent the spread of a disease and maintain fish welfare, but we recognise the need to reduce their use significantly. The positive response we have received from the pharmaceutical industry to date shows that with the right environment, there is real drive to help seek out innovative solutions to reduce the Chilean salmon farming industry’s use of antibiotics.”

Member companies

The salmon farmers involved in Project Yelcho are Aquachile, Australis Mar, Blumar, Camanchaca, Cermaq, Cultivos Yadran, Marine Farm, Mowi, Multi X, Salmones Austral, and Ventisqueros.

Immediate upcoming activities for Project Yelcho include initiating a Technical-Scientific Committee working group, which will be made up of a multidisciplinary team of scientists including Dr Alexis Kalergis, director of the Millennium Institute on Immunology and Immunotherapy, and the technical counterparts of SAG and Sernapesca.

Yelcho will also continue to work closely with pharmaceutical company contacts to identify further partnership opportunities, with the group open to initiating conversations with any organisation interested in Yelcho’s aims.