The Punta Redonda farm in Chile, pictured before storms wrecked one module and badly damaged the other. Photo: Marine Harvest

Up to 800,000 fish escape as storm wrecks Marine Harvest farm in Chile

Up to 800,000 fish are estimated to have escaped from a Marine Harvest salmon farm in Chile after it was badly damaged in a storm.

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The incident occurred at the company’s Punta Redonda farm, located near Isla Huar, which is about 20km south of Puerto Montt.

Eduardo Aguilera, regional director of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca), said Marine Harvest informed the organisation about the escape on Thursday.

He said: “Due to weather conditions, Sernapesca officials weren’t able to enter the centre until Friday. 

“There they found that a module of five cages was completely destroyed and the second module, specifically four cages, was seriously damaged. 

“This infrastructure breakage occurred due to the adverse weather conditions.”

According to Aguilera, the number of escaped fish is estimated at between 500,000 and 800,000. The farm had approximately 900,000 fish, with an average weight of 3.4 kg. 

“Of five affected cages, the fish of three had finished treatment with antibiotics, and two were in full development of treatment with florfenicol. This means that these fish still have residues of the antibiotic in their tissues and are not suitable for human consumption,” he said.

“The only ones authorised to catch these fish are those who are working with Marine Harvest, which has stated that they will put them in a treatment plant because, as they cannot be used for human consumption, they must be used for other purposes. Any [unauthorised] person or vessel capturing these fish does so illegally and will be sanctioned,” Aguilera said.

In a statement on Friday, Marine Harvest said it had implemented a plan to recapture the salmon. “We have contacted the Fishermen’s Federation of Calbuco, who will collaborate in the recovery of escaped salmon with Marine Harvest,” the company said.

The company said the farm was anchored in mid-2017, with cages of recent construction (2017) which were designed for exposed conditions. It added that fortunately, no member of its staff was injured in the incident. 

“Marine Harvest, the relevant authorities and the suppliers of the company are investigating this incident and in the same way all the cultivation centres will be inspected as soon as possible, in order to comply with the engineering standards required by Marine Harvest,” the company said.