A Seernapesca inspection at Nova Austral's Skyring 3 site. Photo: Sernapesca Magallanes.

Complaint filed over escape of up to 387,000 fish in Chile

Chilean state aquaculture agency Sernapesca has filed a complaint against salmon farmer Nova Austral following the loss of up to 387,000 fish from a site in the Magallanes region during a storm in November last year.

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After an investigation, Sernapesca confirmed the rupture of cage nets and large-meshed bird nets at the Skyring 3 site, which would have made it possible for thousands of salmon to escape.

Sernapesca’s regional director, Patricio Díaz, said: “The technical analysis carried out determined that there was indeed an escape of an order of magnitude of between 268,000 and 387,000 fish of the Atlantic salmon species, with an average weight of 235 grams, in Ensenada Ponsomby, southeast sector of Seno Skyring, in the region of Magallanes.”

‘Eaten by sea lions’

At the time of the escape the company withdrew the remaining fish in the farm, at which time it was found that 482,700 salmon were missing. Nova Austral said all of the missing fish had been eaten by predatory action of sea lions that entered the farm.

“However, the analysis of the records obtained in the field inspections shows that there was a break in the fish pen nets and that the bird mesh did not have the mesh size that would prevent the loss of fish through the upper area of ​​the cages by mechanical action in the event of intense waves. These problems were possibly aggravated by the abandonment of the centre during periods of time, in which there was no protection staff,” Sernapesca reported.

The report also underlines that the farm was stocked between June and September 2021 and that in September, Sernapesca warned that safety standards were not met in the face of adverse weather conditions and that there was a risk of fish escaping.

Cages not secure

The company dismissed the observations, providing arguments and background information that Sernapesca didn’t find acceptable, and at that time a first complaint was filed with the Superintendency of the Environment (SMA) against Nova Austral for not having secure cultivation modules and moorings.

Regarding the claim that the missing fish had all been predated by sea lions, Sernapesca Magallanes said that the theoretical consumption of biomass by sea lions would be much lower than the total number of escaped fish and therefore does not explain the number of missing fish.

This month, Sernapesca has filed a complaint with the SMA in which it accuses Nova Austral of:

  • Not immediately notifying the Service, the Maritime Authority and the Superintendence of the Environment of an environmental contingency due to the escape of fish
  • Not recapturing at least 10% of the fish
  • Not complying with the contingency plan for mass mortality and a fish escape, and
  • Not having the minimum mortality extraction capacity declared in the company’s contingency plan

Norwegian / American owned

Magallanes-centred Nova Austral is owned by private equity companies Altor, of Norway, and US-based Bain Capital, and has an annual production of around 30,000 tonnes.

Last year it was fined £1.1 million by the SMA for attempting to conceal the full extent of fish mortality at a site in the Magallanes region in 2019.

When the SMA announced the fine, which Nova Austral had the right to appeal, Nova Austral pointed out that it had completely restructured internal management after the 2019 incident.

It had added and recovered international certifications that guaranteed “the highest environmental, sustainability and compliance standards”.