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Bid to close hundreds of Chilean salmon farms deferred

The Commission met yesterday and decided to delay a vote on pushing fish farms out of national and forest reserves.
The Commission met yesterday and decided to delay a vote on pushing fish farms out of national and forest reserves.

A vote by Chilean politicians over whether to press for the closure of almost 400 salmon farms has been postponed.

The Fisheries, Aquaculture and Maritime Interests Commission of the Chilean parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, deferred the decision to a later date so that they could hear from all interested parties.

Salmon farms are already excluded from national parks, and a group of deputies led by Commission president Jorge Brito, of centre-left party Democratic Revolution, wants to change the law so that they are also excluded from the maritime zones of national and forest reserves.

Conservation objectives

They point out that there were 320 salmon farming concessions in the Guaitecas Forest Reserve, in the Aysén Region, and a further 69 salmon concessions granted and more than 100 pending in the Kawésqar National Reserve in the Magallanes Region and the Chilean Antarctic.

They claims salmon farms are not compatible with the conservation objectives of protected areas and want farms removed within two years of a law change, with no alternative sites being provided.

Marta Oyarzo:
Marta Oyarzo: "We are talking about more than 2 million people who would be harmed".

An economic crisis

Union leader Marta Oyarzo, president of the National Coordinator of Workers of the Salmon and Related Branches Industry, last week told Fish Farming Expert’s Chilean sister site, Salmonexpert.cl, that the proposal could lead to the end of salmon farming in Chile.

She said the industry provided approximately 40,000 direct jobs. “And if we add the indirect jobs, which in total add up to 70,000, not only the workers would be affected, but also their families. We are talking about more than 2 million people who would be harmed by this project and therefore, a great social and economic crisis would be generated in the southern regions of the country.”

Not enough time

When the Commission met yesterday, Brito said that more time was needed before a vote was taken.

“The first [proposal] is to remove salmon farming centres from marine protected areas and the second is not to grant more concessions,” said Brito, a civil engineer and former student activist.

“Regarding the first, regarding the expiration period and how long it will take to leave these areas, will require a very complete discussion in particular and if we start the discussion now, given the number of audiences requested in relation to this project, I do not see any possibility of receiving them all and developing the discussion in particular before March (when the current legislative period ends). It is a contradiction to start the process and then change your mind, not giving it the continuity required by the bills.”

Arturo Clement addressing the meeting yesterday.
Arturo Clement addressing the meeting yesterday.

‘Relocating is not feasible’

The meeting included presentations from producers’ organisation chiefs Arturo Clement (SalmonChile), Joanna Davidovich (Salmon Council) and Carlos Odebret (Magallanes Salmon and Trout Producers’ Association).

Clement said: “This project that proposes to remove the cultivation centres from the Las Guaitecas and Kawéskar National Reserves would affect 383 concessions that are 100% operational with international certification. Therefore, relocating is not feasible.

“Furthermore, it also proposes to increase the conservation areas to 5 nautical miles (instead of 1.5 nautical miles), which would make the concessions practically disappear in the continental Chiloé area and is even more dramatic in Aysén and Magallanes. With this, 54% of the concessions would be affected.

“If we add the increase of the 5 nautical miles (to the 383 closed farms), it results in 721 concessions affected. In addition, it does not distinguish between the different degrees of protection, does not establish environmental standards and simply prohibits a productive activity, which is discriminatory.”

Growth engine

Davidovich emphasised the efforts and initiatives that the salmon industry was continuously making to increase economic, environmental and social sustainability.

“Salmon farming is an important growth engine for the regions of Los Lagos, Aysén and Magallanes, generating more than 70,000 direct and indirect jobs, in addition to the ventures that are developed around this industry,” said Davidovich. “An example is that the member companies of the Salmon Council, which represent 50% of the national salmon production, encompass more than 7,000 SMEs that provide goods and services, generating a pole of opportunities to improve the quality of life of many people.”

Carlos Odebret: Farms removal would be like the ISA crisis, but without the recovery.
Carlos Odebret: Farms removal would be like the ISA crisis, but without the recovery.

Catastrophic consequences

Odebret said the proposed law changes would eliminate between 30% and 50% of Chilean marine salmon farming and compared the effects to the infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) crisis that hit the sector 15 years ago.

“Thousands of lost jobs, company bankruptcies, debts and a major social and economic crisis was what happened, and with this project, it could be projected that this would happen again,” said the Magallanes fish farming spokesman.

“But unlike what happened with the ISA virus, which was a temporary situation, here it is proposed that it be permanent. For example, the market would decrease by 40% for farmers who have planted more than 80,000 hectares of grain for salmon feed, thousands of trucks that transport goods and supplies, in addition to the boats that work in the industry, would not have a space in which to operate, and many SMEs would lose their competitiveness. In short, the consequences would be catastrophic.”

If and when the Commission was to vote in favour of the proposal, it would then have to be approved by the parliament’s upper house, the Senate, and then return to the Chamber of Deputies for a vote by the full chamber.