Lago Sofia chief executive Miguel Portus with Scotland's Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon during a visit to the smolt producer's facility near Puerto Montt.

Chilean smolt producer is an example of our aims, says Scottish minister


Scotland’s aquaculture minister Mairi Gougeon has described Chilean smolt producer Lago Sofía as an example of what the Scottish Government expects from its own fish farming sector.

Gougeon, whose Rural Affairs Secretary portfolio includes aquaculture, made the comment during a visit to Lago Sofía’s smolt facility in Chinquihue, close to Puerto Montt.

“We know that aquaculture is very important for our economy in Scotland. It provides well-paid jobs in some of the most remote areas of our country and also in our island communities,” Gougeon said.

“But we know that industry growth needs to be sustainable. That means reducing environmental impact, investing in animal health and welfare, as well as working with communities, and that is exactly what we saw today at Lago Sofia.”

Lago Sofía, which produces 15 million smolts annually in a size range of 130-250 grams, last year completed a six-year process to become the first fish farmer in Chile to earn WELF CERT approval, which is supported by the Chilean Animal Welfare Association.

Scotland's Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon, centre. Also in the photo are special advisor Kate Higgins (third from left), Lago Sofia chief executive Miguel Portus (third from right), deputy director for marine economy and communities, Malcolm Pentland (second from right), andhead of aquaculture development, Jill Barber (right).

It is one of seven innovative Chilean fish farming suppliers that have been selected to participate in a “Blue Bridge” initiative to help them establish themselves in the UK. The Blue Bridge programme is organised by the UK’s Department for Business and Trade and the British Embassy in Santiago and offers the companies a six-month “soft landing” during which they will be taught all they need to know to set up a presence in the UK.

It encompasses a five-day trade mission to Scotland, which includes the opportunity for the companies to showcase their innovations in a presentation at the Aquaculture UK trade show in Aviemore in May.

Gougeon and a civil service team from Scotland are in Chile to visit the AquaSur trade show in Puerto Montt. The minister is accompanied by private secretary for rural affairs, Rahul Singh; special advisor Kate Higgins; deputy director for marine economy and communities, Malcolm Pentland; and the head of aquaculture development, Jill Barber.

Animal welfare

In a press release, Lago Sofía reported that the minister said it was interesting to see how the company operates and the investment it makes in animal health and welfare, as well as observing the importance it gives to the community, both in the decisions it makes and in the business it builds.

She added that both environmental and social values are exactly what the Scottish Government is trying to implement in Scottish aquaculture.

“We published our vision for sustainable aquaculture last year because we want to see sustainable growth in this activity in our country, but we know that we need to do that by working with the environment that we have, trying to improve the environment, but also making sure that we are working with our communities too, because that is a really essential part of that process,” Gougeon said.

The Scottish delegation are shown inside one of the tanks at Lago Sofia.
Mairi Gougeon, front, is shown the monitoring screens during her visit to the facility at Chinquihue.

Lago Sofía chief executive Miguel Portus said the minister’s visit enabled the company to present some of the contributions it has made in terms of technology and design of iRAS (individual recirculating aquaculture system) modules.

“These systems have been known in the market for some time; here we could appreciate how from a high standard in sustainability and animal welfare, a smolt production project was assembled, which has become a benchmark within the country's fish farms,” said Portus. “We feel very honoured that Minister Gougeon has considered our facilities and has given us almost a full morning of her time.”

Portus said the minister’s visit was also linked to the Blue Bridge programme.

“This opportunity allowed us not only to show Scottish authorities what we can bring to Scotland as part of our contributions to production systems but also opens up a world of possibilities for technological, academic, and production exchange in different areas of the farming cycle, and in this, I believe we have an important comparative advantage because the technology we use allows us to bring flexibility to production, maintain a high sanitary standard, and rigorously care for the welfare of the fish,” Portus said.