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Marine Harvest could face £6.2m fine for Chile escape

Eduardo Aguilera, regional director of Sernapesca, is not confident of Marine Harvest recapturing 10% of salmon. File photo: Salmonexpert
Eduardo Aguilera, regional director of Sernapesca, is not confident of Marine Harvest recapturing 10% of salmon. File photo: Salmonexpert

Marine Harvest Chile is facing a fine of up to 5.6 billion pesos (£6.2 million) and a possible ban on farming fish at its Punto Redonda farm following a cage failure and mass escape on July 5.

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The company has until September 15 to recapture at least 10% of the 690,000 salmon that escaped during severe storms. 

But Eduardo Aguilera, Los Lagos regional director of national fisheries and aquaculture service, Sernapesca, said that only 5.5% of fish had been recaptured by the company. There have been additional contributions, but they are not significant. 

Catches decreasing

“It is increasingly difficult for the company to achieve the minimum 10%, since the recapture started with high amounts, which decreased progressively. During the last weekend, for example, only 10 fish were caught,” said Aguilera in an interview with Fish Farming Expert’s Chilean sister site, Salmonexpert.cl.

According to Aguilera, such decreasing returns are well known. “This is described in the literature. There is a paper by Doris Soto, from 2001, that accounts for the effects both of the geographical dispersion of the salmon and of the depredation of the fish by sea lions, and also by illegal capture.”

If Marine Harvest Chile fails to comply with the 10% recapture of its salmon, environmental damage is judged to have occurred, prompting action against the company.

Fernando Villarroel: Hired independent consultant to count all recovered fish.
Fernando Villarroel: Hired independent consultant to count all recovered fish.

Artisanal fishermen

“Part of the sanctions that the company risks have to do with the repeal of the Environmental Qualification Resolution of the cultivation centre, which in practice implies not being able to operate. If the environmental damage is serious, the fines exceed 2,800 million pesos (£3m) and if it is very serious, over 5,600 million pesos (£6.2m). If it is mild, mitigation measures and minor sanctions are applied to the company,” explained Aguilera.

For its part, with the signing of an agreement between Marine Harvest Chile and artisanal fishermen who participated in the salmon recovery operations after the escape, the company announced that the recapture process entered its final phase. It is now making the final contingency report that will be delivered to the authorities before the expiration of the deadline on Saturday.

The general manager of Marine Harvest Chile, Fernando Villarroel, highlighted the role played by artisanal fishermen in the area in the recapture process, pointing out that the company hired an independent consultant to find out the number of fish recovered by individuals. 

“This has been achieved with photographic, audio-visual and documentary records, which will be an important precedent for the final accounting that should be handed over to the authorities,” said Villarroel.

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