Economy minister Juan Andrés Fontaine and Sernapesca director Alicia Gallardo announce legal action against Nova Austral. Photo: Salmonexpert.

Chilean farmer facing legal action over mortality figures

Chilean aquaculture regulator Sernapesca is filing lawsuits against salmon farmer Nova Austral before a civil court, the Superintendency of the Environment and the Public Prosecutor’s Office for “serious irregularities” linked to mortality figures.

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In his first speech on Chile’s salmon industry as economy minister, Juan Andrés Fontaine announced that Sernapesca will present three complaints against the company, which is based in the far south of the country.

The government made the decision after receiving information from Sernapesca director, Alicia Gallardo, about irregularities allegedly committed by the company and that were detected during an investigation that began 14 days ago.

‘Falsifying information’

Fontaine said Sernapesca, through the Regional Office of Magallanes, will file a complaint in the corresponding court against Nova Austral for infraction to article 113 of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Law, that is, falsifying information regarding the operation of a fish farm.

With regard to a possible concealment of the effects on the seabed under the company’s farms, Sernapesca will file a complaint with the Superintendency of the Environment against Nova Austral.

Sernapesca will also present a complaint to the Public Prosecutor’s Office today for possible crimes committed by Nova Austral in relation to adulteration and forgery of mortality figures.  Fontaine was emphatic in pointing out that “we are facing serious irregularities and our hands will not tremble to enforce the law”.

Strengthen controls

Fontaine added he had instructed Sernapesca to deliver a proposal as soon as possible to strengthen its control procedures in salmon farms.

Nova Austral, which is owned by US investment fund Bain Capital and Norway’s Altor Fund III, said that it remains committed to collaborate “proactively with regulators”. 

“This July 8, we had a first meeting with Sernapesca, during which we discussed the preliminary results of the internal and independent investigation being carried out by the company at the request of its board of directors. Nova Austral has also communicated with environmental authorities to ensure their full cooperation,” said the company.

Nova Austral said that in the meeting with Sernapesca “it was explained that its production of antibiotic-free salmon is not in question, which it carries out under strict guidelines that honour the commitment with its customers”.

‘Flaws in mortality reports’

“The Nova Austral research identified flaws in the mortality reports submitted to Sernapesca during the last production cycle, which was communicated quickly by the company to the authority,” said Nova Austral. “This did not affect the quality or integrity of the salmon of the company and had no impact on past financial information.”

The company added: “Nova Austral presented evidence to Sernapesca verifying that all mortalities were treated in accordance with current environmental regulations. The company is taking measures to avoid repeating irregularities like this.”

Nova Austral said unusual mortality levels presented in the last production cycle were mainly due to the poor quality of imported smolts from the Araucanía and Los Lagos regions, to the high death rates during the transport, and delays in setting out fish due to algae blooms. 

To avoid such problems, Nova Austral will open a recirculation fish farm in Magallanes this year, very close to its farms, which will reduce the risk of biological contamination for smolts.