Chile’s new president plans salmon farming shake-up
Left-wing politician Gabriel Boric has been elected as the new president of Chile, the world’s second-largest producer of farmed salmon, and his appointment heralds a significant shake-up for fish farming.
Boric led large student demonstrations in Chile a few years ago and is today a member of the country’s National Assembly. He was the presidential candidate for Apruebo Dignidad (Approve Dignity), a left-wing coalition founded in January for the election, and is leader of Convergenica Social (Social Convergence) party.
At 35, Boric will be the country’s youngest president in recent times, and he is ready to make strict demands on the aquaculture industry now that he has won the election.
The new president has previously said he wants greater control of the industry. Boric believes that Sernapesca (the Chilean government’s aquaculture and fisheries agency) does not have the capacity to control the aquaculture industry, since the government body does not have the vessels needed to carry out the necessary inspections.
Boric believes that more investment must be made in inspections, training of new inspectors, bringing in new vessels, and that they will use state-of-the-art technology, so that there are better conditions for supervising the industry.
“We cannot continue to do things in the same way, it is urgent that the entire productive industry in Chile assumes a much more purposeful commitment to the environment than today,” Boric has previously stated to Fish Farming Expert’s Chilean sister site Salmonexpert.cl.
In that interview (see below), Boric said that the aquaculture industry currently has a negative impact on the marine ecosystem with faeces from the fish, feed residues, drug residues and chemical substances used to treat salmon lice, which he believes will remain in the water column.
“The companies also leave industrial waste in the fjords, such as abandoned feed rafts, plastic, buoys and ropes, among other things. Faeces from the fish and feed residues also lead to poorer oxygen levels in the sea, which hinders the survival of the ecosystem.”
Boric also lists a number of other negative aspects of the industry.
Conservative José Antonio Kast lost the presidential election in Chile.
Below is translation of an interview by Salmonexpert.cl journalist Jonathan Garcés with Gabriel Boric before his election victory.
The presidential candidate for Approve Dignity, Gabriel Boric, warns that the problems of the salmon farming industry have moved to the Magallanes region from Los Lagos and Aysén.
Boric affirms to Salmonexpert that Sernapesca “does not have the capacity to supervise the salmon farming industry, as it does not have the necessary vessels to carry out this task. In order to inspect the cultivation centres [salmon farms], which are usually in southern and isolated areas, the Service must agree with the inspected (cultivation centres), so that they can transport them to the place that will be inspected”.
Currently, Boric warns that “Sernapesca has only one vessel for the inspection of aquaculture activities, which was delivered to the Service on September 4, 2020. Although it is progress, a single vessel is not enough to audit around 1,600 concessions that are located between the regions of Los Lagos, Aysén and Magallanes”.
“Investment in inspection must be increased, including the use of cutting-edge technology, training of new inspectors and new vessels. On the other hand, the Superintendency of the Environment (SMA) does not have enough budget to oversee compliance with the RCA (environmental qualification resolutions) of the cultivation centres, therefore that budget would also have to be increased”, details the presidential candidate.
What measures would you take to combine productivity and environmental care in the salmon farming sector?
A territorial reorganisation is required, a spatial marine planning, through which the Suitable Areas for Aquaculture (AAA) can be re-evaluated and estimated with new parameters where the AAA actually are, evaluating the proximity between the aquaculture concessions (a factor very important in promoting contagion between centres) and the ecological carrying capacity of the marine ecosystem (not only economic or productive capacity).
There are areas that do not meet the requirements for aquaculture concessions (for example, with low water circulation), concessions that are within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Coastal Marine Spaces of Native Peoples (ECMPO) or in spaces where there are conflicts with indigenous peoples, who cannot continue where they are and need to be evaluated.
In turn, the operation of all service providers must be evaluated, which is an outsourcing of functions by salmon farming companies, but which do not operate with high environmental and social standards. We cannot continue doing things the same way, it is urgent that the entire productive industry in Chile assumes a much more determined commitment to the environment than today.
How would you rate the current level of sustainability of the salmon farming industry?
The salmon farming industry currently has negative externalities that it leaves in the marine ecosystem: waste (faeces), food remains, antibiotic remains (mainly florfenicol) and chemical substances (to treat Caligus or sea lice), are deposited in the water column. Industrial waste that companies have left in the fjords, channels and much of the coastal edge of the affected regions, [include] abandoned cage rafts, pontoons, plastics, food bags, buoys, ropes, among many others. Due to faeces and food, anaerobism is generated and this lack of oxygen prevents the survival of the ecosystem.
The density of the cages is very high - the norm allows more than the ecosystem can withstand - and it cannot even be controlled. Salmon escapes have an impact on the ecosystem, because they introduce carnivorous species that compete with and predate native species. This is an impact that is not considered: the number of salmon that escape per year is very high and does not have adequate sanctions (remember the case of Marine Harvest -now Mowi - and Blumar) and, in addition, it affects the health of the population, because the use of antibiotics is very high and that, in turn, generates negative effects on people’s health.
A dialogue between businessmen and workers in the industry is necessary to resolve how we can improve the production process so that it is sustainable and harmonious with the ecosystem and the people who consume the products and, at the same time, not affect the workforce.
What should be strengthened in relation to the employment offered by the salmon farming industry?
It is necessary to carry out studies that determine the type of employment, the number of direct jobs and the working conditions, among other things. There is information that most of the jobs are based on minimum wage, seasonal jobs. In addition, all service providers should also be evaluated. It is important that part of being a sustainable industry is providing good working conditions to its workers.
What is your opinion on the growth of salmon farming in Magallanes?
The expansion of salmon farming towards Magallanes competes with one of the most important values of the region, which is the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems, an issue that is crystallised in the existence of numerous national parks and protected areas. Tourism based on ecosystem conservation is key for the region. The justification for transferring salmon farming to Magallanes from the Los Lagos and Aysén regions was that the problems present there (such as Caligus or sea louse) would not develop in Magallanes due to the pristine and cold water conditions, but in reality they moved. That is why it is necessary to see the best ways to solve these problems.
How do you see the future of the salmon industry at the country level?
If it is not properly regulated and deconcentrated, in a few more years a socio-environmental crisis will be triggered, as there are several conflicts with communities, and it will end up turning the seas of Patagonia into a new slaughter zone. To avoid this outcome, a profound change in the industry is required.