Nova Austral's farms are located in the cold south of Chile. Photo: Nova Austral website.

Nova Austral ‘antibiotic-free’ status suspended

Chile’s fisheries and aquaculture service, Sernapesca, has suspended the “antibiotic-free” certification held by farms belonging to salmon farmer Nova Austral, which is under investigation by the service for allegedly manipulating mortality figures.

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Online newspaper El Mostrador (The Counter) made the claim after an investigation lasting several months.

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

Incentive for improvement

Nova Austral – owned by private equity companies Altor Fund III, of Norway, and US-based Bain Capital - has insisted it “has never instructed the staff to hide or manipulate information to Sernapesca, or to carry out double accounting”.

According to Sernapesca, the suspension of antibiotic-free certification was notified to the company yesterday and will remain in force until its investigation is complete.

Sernapesca’s deputy director of aquaculture, Marcela Lara, who is leading the investigation, said the voluntary certification of antibiotic-free farms “is a tool that has served as an incentive to improve health practices, in a manner complementary to what is established in the regulations. Although there is an evaluation prior to the issuance of these certifications, transparency and trust are important pillars that sustain the delivery process of this instrument.”

The certification of salmon farms free of the use of antimicrobials began in 2016 and to date has more than 110 farms certified.

‘Far from everything’

Suspension of antibiotic-free certification will be an unwelcome blow for Nova Austral, which emphasises the remoteness of its farms in its marketing.

The company’s entire operations are located in Chile’s 12th Region, in the Magallanes and Antarctic Region, over 2,500 km from the capital, Santiago.

“Pristine Antarctic waters run through our farms, located in an icy region close to the Chilean Antarctic,” the company says on its website. “Far from everything; far from other salmon farmers and in one of Chile’s most isolated regions.

“Our salmon enjoy low, stable water temperatures all year long, and benefit from low density farms to grow healthy and strong.”