The company claims 27% of fish were recaptured if documentary evidence from artisanal fishermen and others who caught some of the escapees is taken into account.
But Alicia Gallardo, national director of Chile’s national fisheries and aquaculture service, Sernapesca, said the agency was relying on its own officially verified figures, which showed that only 38,286 fish – 5.54% of escapees – were recaptured.
“As the figure is less than 10% of fish recapture required by law, we must present the respective background by means of a report to the State Defence Council, to determine if there is environmental damage, as the Fisheries and Aquaculture Law establishes presumption in cases like this,” she told Fish Farming Expert’s Chilean sister site, Salmonexpert.
‘The valid data is ours’
Gallardo said the company’s submissions that many of the fish had been caught by people who didn’t inform Sernapesca had been considered on their merits, “but are not enough to prove that they complied with the law”.
She added: “It is striking that the company has made its report public in the press, because, despite the more than 200 pages of expansion, at the end of the day, the valid data is ours. As the competent authority in the matter, we carried out the due inspection and the official count of recaptured fish, which led us to reconfirm the definitive 5.54%.
“We analyzed the Contingency Term Report delivered by the company on September 14, through the legal division, which also recorded an estimate of additional captures together with the direct ones, which cannot be considered in the final calculation.”
50 control actions
Gallardo explained that, in order to supervise the correct execution of the contingency plan after the escape, Sernapesca carried out 50 control actions, which included overflights, road controls, and inspections in the farm site with the support of underwater robots, as well as in the collection sites for the recaptured fish and in the Marine Harvest Chile disposal plant.
If authorities rule serious environmental damage was caused by the escape, Marine Harvest could face a fine of 2,800 million pesos (£3m). If damage is deemed to have been very serious, the fine could be more than 5,600 million pesos (£6.2m). If damage is ruled to have been mild, mitigation measures and minor sanctions are applied to the company.
One of the sanctions Marine Harvest could face has to do with the repeal of the Environmental Qualification Resolution of the farm site, which in practice implies not being able to operate.