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Óscar Garay. Image: Loreto Appel.
Óscar Garay. Image: Loreto Appel.

Given the right regulations Chile could produce a million tonnes of salmon a year, according to the head of farming at Salmones Magallanes, Óscar Garay.  

However, Garay - whose firm is due to increase production from 17,000 to 21,000 tonnes this year (an increase of 23.5%) - also told that the new government regulations are merely a short term bandage that will complicate and make operations more expensive.

"A long term master plan with a clearer more courageous strategy is lacking," he observes.

According to Garay, who is also vice-president of the Magellan Producers Association, health risks are reduced if the sites themselves are further apart and this is more important than stocking densities.

“Reducing the stocking density [per pen] doesn’t achieve much – if there is a person next to me with the flu, it doesn’t matter if I’m 1.5 or 1.8 metres from them, the possibilities of contagion are the same. Therefore, the key is keeping sites/producers further apart – it may be complicated, but it allows the merger of operations to become more feasible,” he argues.

“It is a more complex measure to execute, but the big and effective solutions require great decisions, everything else is merely a bandage which complicates and makes the operation of companies more expensive,” he adds.

As far as the idea of setting a threshold for the country’s maximum production capacity – for which a figure of 650,000 tonnes has been widely reported – he thinks this fundamentally misses the key issue at stake.

“I do not think the problem is how much we can produce, but rather how we produce it. If things are done wrong, 300,000 tonnes a year will generate health problems, but if things are done well, we can easily produce 1 million tonnes per year in Chile,” he argues.

“On a different note, from the commercial point of view, explosive growth is harmful, since prices are coming down, but that is a different story,” Garay concludes.