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Chilean salmon farmer fined £150k for hiding fish deaths

An inspection by Sernapesca officials at a Nova Austral salmon farm. Photo: Sernapesca.
An inspection by Sernapesca officials at a Nova Austral salmon farm. Photo: Sernapesca.

Chilean salmon farmer Nova Austral has been fined 150 million pesos (£150,000) after concealing the extent of mortality among its fish.

But the court in Punta Arenas in Chile’s southernmost region chose not to impose the suspension of operations for two production cycles which had been requested by state aquaculture authority Sernapesca.

The case was disclosed in June last year, when an investigation revealed that the company was hiding the full amount of mortalities that occurred in its farms in Magallanes, declaring a lower than actual mortality to the regulatory authority.

Alicia Gallardo: Sernapesca will appeal the sentence.
Alicia Gallardo: Sernapesca will appeal the sentence.

Maximum penalty

That led Sernapesca national director Alicia Gallardo to file a complaint against the company for the delivery of late, unreliable information.

Gallardo requested the maximum possible sanction under the Fisheries Law, which is equivalent to a fine of 3,000 tax units (around £150,000 in Nova Austral’s case), and the suspension of operations for up to two production cycles.

The court accepted the complaint and fined Nova Austral the maximum amount, considering that the infractions found constituted a serious injury to the general interest, “generated by the need to prevent the emergence and spread of serious diseases that affect the marine ecosystem”.

Despite this, the court did not suspend operations, arguing that the company had collaborated with the investigation process and corrected its procedures.

‘Example must be made’

Sernapesca intends to appeal the sentence, which it believes it too lenient.

“We are satisfied that a situation as serious as the deliberate concealment of information that Nova Austral incurred has been sanctioned. The provision of information on the deaths of the farming centres is essential to prevent health situations that not only affect the company,” said Gallardo.

“However, we will appeal the judgement because we believe that there are no antecedents that justify that the suspension of operations has not been applied as ordered by law, and also because concrete examples must be given from our institution in the sense that this type of behaviour is not tolerable and, therefore, the sanctions established to avoid it must operate in their entirety.”