Just over 690,000 fish with an average weight of 3.4kg escaped from Mowi Chile’s Punta Redonda site, about 20km south of Puerto Montt, after storms wrecked cages.
Under Chilean law, environmental damage is assumed to have occurred if fewer than 10% of the fish are recaptured.
Mowi, which paid a bounty to local fishermen for salmon that had been caught, claimed that 27.23% of the escaped fish were recaptured.
But the information provided by the company contrasts with that of Chile’s National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service, Sernapesca, which says that Mowi managed to recapture only 5.54% of its 690,277 escaped fish.
In new documents submitted to the SMA, Mowi says that Sernapesca prevented it from accounting for escaped fish through purchase from fishermen, but then demanded possession of the specimens as a single proof of recovery.
Mowi’s submission includes a report by two legal professors, José Miguel Valdivia and Tomás Blake, which analyses the applicability of the presumption of environmental damage contained in Article 118c of Chile’s General Law of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
The report concludes that the case had resulted in “the incorrect application of a presumption for environmental damage in sanctioning matters, without the concurrence of the facts that enables its concretion”.
Mowi Chile said in its technical document that “the inconsistent behaviour of Sernapesca has prevented the company’s right of defence by establishing at least two criteria for recapture fish: first, it prevented the accounting of escaped fish through its purchase, and then, demanded the material possession of the salmon as a single proof of recovery.
“This act has violated the principle of non-helplessness, which is an elementary requirement of the sanctioning procedure.”
One of the sanctions that Mowi could face if environmental damage is deemed to have occurred has to do with the repeal of the Environmental Qualification Resolution of the farm site, which in practice implies not being able to operate.
If environmental damage is deemed serious, the fines could 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.