A Nova Austral fish farm. Photo: Salmonexpert.

Chile: salmon farmer denies under-reporting fish deaths

Chilean salmon producer Nova Austral has denied claims by online newspaper El Mostrador (The Counter) that it massaged its figures to conceal mortalities.

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The claims follow an investigation by El Mostrador lasting several months and have prompted an investigation by Chile’s fisheries and aquaculture service, Sernapesca.

Magallenes-centred Nova Austral is owned by private equity companies Altor, of Norway, and US-based Bain Capital.

El Mostrador said it had leaked emails that show that Nova Austral’s production management had instructed area managers to downgrade the mortality figures to be reported to the Sernapesca.

It also reported that the company has marketed itself as a market leader in sustainability.

‘Adjust with the slaughterhouse’

“We have to write down lower mortality than it is. When we harvest, we have to adjust with the slaughterhouse,” Arturo Schofield, production manager at Magallanes, is reported to have written in an email sent on August 22, 2016 to department head Rigoberto Garrido and Isaac Ollivet-Besson.

Nova Austral told Fish Farming Expert’s sister site, Salmonexpert.cl, that it “has never instructed the staff to hide or manipulate information to Sernapesca, or to carry out double accounting”.

Regarding the emails included in the El Mostrador report published yesterday, the company said an internal investigation will be carried out “to confirm that they have not been edited and manipulated by the anonymous complainant”. 

Marcela Lara: Sernapesca will take "all appropriate legal actions" if the report is found to be true.

Immediate review

Marcela Lara, sub-director of aquaculture of Sernapesca, said the service activated an immediate review of the case and was requiring the company to provide more information. An audit will be carried out in relation to reported mortalities.

“If this report is true, this conduct seriously threatens transparency in the health and environmental field, and as a service we will take all appropriate legal actions, since these bad practices jeopardise the substantial steps that have been taken to move towards sustainable aquaculture,” said Lara.

The main associations of the Chilean salmon industry have asked Sernapesca to clarify whether the allegations in the news report claims are true.

Investigation essential

The general manager of the Salmon Growers’ Association of Magallanes, Cristian Kubota, stressed his rejection “of any practice that goes against the current regulations with which the industry of our country is governed. It is essential that a thorough investigation be carried out, by the relevant authorities, to clarify the authenticity or falsity of the facts exposed”.

SalmonChile indicated that “regarding the complaint made against a salmon company that does not belong to our union, we hope that the authority will conduct an investigation to clarify this serious accusation and that, if irregularities are detected, proceed with the appropriate sanctions”.

Conservation organisation WWF Chile director Ricardo Bosshard said: “The adulteration of information related to subjects as sensitive as the mortality of salmon constitutes an absolutely unacceptable and condemnable practice, and should be investigated and clarified as soon as possible.”