Carlos Odebret. "We are talking about irregular influence in the preparation of the Kawésqar National Reserve management plan."

Chilean salmon farmers call for probe into 'irregular influence of US NGO' 

Magellanes association alleges a series of irregularities in the preparation of the management plan for the Kawésqar National Reserve


The Magallanes Salmon Farmers’ Association has asked Chile’s civil service watchdog – the Comptroller General of the Republic - to “investigate and determine the existence of a possible conflict of interest and/or possible violations of the principles of administrative honesty, impartiality and helpfulness” of the National Forestry Association (Conaf) in the process of formulating the Management Plan of the Kawésqar National Reserve.

The Association argues that, during the years 2018, 2019 and 2020, framework agreements were signed between Conaf, the non-governmental organisation Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Austral University of Chile (UACH), which aim to dictate the management and handling of protected areas in Chilean Patagonia.

Association president Carlos Odebret said: “Pew, an American NGO, provided more than 1.9 billion Chilean pesos (£1.58 million at current exchange rates) to the UACH that would have subsequently been transferred to Conaf in an amount that we still do not know and which we hope will be clarified in the investigation.

Management plan

“These monies were used to hire personnel who work on the development of the management plan for the Kawésqar National Reserve and those who carry out the technical studies that support it.

“We are talking about irregular influence in the preparation of the aforementioned plan. That is, Pew, an NGO that has expressed its interest in preventing the development of salmon farming, finances Conaf, through a network of agreements, for the development of a public policy with important effects on third parties.”

Odebret said the tenor of Pew’s agreements allow it to influence and control Conaf’s work in an arrangement that in many aspects resembles a mandate contract. Conaf acts according to the guidelines and financing of Pew through the UACH, having the responsibility of reporting on its actions and being accountable for the budget received.

'Corporate capture'

Based on the information obtained by the Magallanes Salmon Farmers’ Association through transparency laws, the agreements reflect a structure in which the UACH, with funds from Pew, undertakes to provide financing for the hiring of personnel using “Third Party Funds”. This action is confirmed in the hiring of two professionals who directly participated in the development of the management plan for the Kawésqar Reserve. In exchange, Conaf is obliged to achieve certain management objectives and goals, provide regular accountability reports, and support the monitoring processes carried out by the UACH.

“The influence of Pew and the UACH on Conaf through financing and budget control compromises the impartiality and objectivity of the public function performed by the latter,” said Odebret.

“This 'corporate capture' violates the principle of administrative probity, established in the Chilean Constitution and laws, by compromising impartiality in the exercise of public powers and favouring particular interests over the general interest.”

Expanding protections

The Pew Charitable Trusts is the sole beneficiary of seven individual charitable funds established between 1948 and 1979 by two sons and two daughters of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph Newton Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew. It says it works closely with scientists, local and Indigenous communities, policymakers, fishers, philanthropists, and other leading NGOs to expand and enhance global marine protections for the long-term benefit of ecosystems.

Read articles about Pew’s involvement in the Magallanes region, written by Pew’s Chilean Patagonia project director Francisco Solis Germani, here and here.

Philadelphia-headquartered Pew describes Chile’s Patagonia region as one of the world’s last largely intact natural areas.

Proactive conservation

“Hundreds of islands, estuaries, and channels provide critical plant and wildlife habitat, but these world-class natural resources do not enjoy the world-class protections they deserve. The coming decade offers an opportunity to implement proactive conservation measures that can ensure the region’s sustainability for years to come,” Pew states on its website.

“Pew is partnering with a robust network of non-governmental organisations, universities, and government agencies in Chile to enhance the protection of this area through the country’s park and reserve system, while also promoting public-private partnerships for new conservation efforts. Together, we are working to develop and implement policies to secure the long-term protection of this remarkable region.”