Environment minister Maisa Rojas speaking to members of Aysén's seafood sector about the Government's intentions to restrict salmon farming in the region. On the left of the second row is artisanal fishing leader Renato Flores.

Environment minister ‘has declared war on salmon farming’

Defiance from suppliers and artisanal fishers in Chile as Rojas pledges to continue bid to evict fish from protected areas despite defeat in Congress


Chile’s environment minister has been accused of declaring war on salmon farming in the Aysén region after restating her determination to evict fish farms from protected areas.

Maisa Rojas, an Oxford-educated physicist, recently confirmed her commitment to removing farms despite the idea being rejected by Deputies (MPs) when they voted in May to create the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (SBAP in Spanish), under the Ministry of Environment. Although Deputies approved the law creating the SBAP, they removed a section of the bill that sought to prohibit any new aquaculture concession in any protected area and prevent the renewal of current concessions.

That hasn’t stopped Rojas, who on a recent visit to Aysén told members of the seafood sector that because Atlantic salmon is not a native Chilean species “if we are trying to protect an area for its ecosystem value and we understand that exotic species are a threat, it is logical to remove that threat out of any protected area”.

Chilean environment minister Maisa Rojas.

Half of Aysén protected

Aysén’s economy leans heavily on salmon farming and would be particularly vulnerable of Rojas got her way as half of the region is classed as protected area.

Katia Inostroza, president of Aysén aquaculture suppliers’ organisation Acuiprov, told Fish Farming Expert’s Chilean sister site, Salmonexpert.cl: “We attended the citizen dialogue, led by the Minister of the Environment, following the creation of the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service, but as suppliers to the industry and being a mostly aquaculture region - 30% of the GDP in Aysén is driven by salmon farming - her visit left us with a very bitter taste, it was quite sad.

“She stated that she had lost when they voted against the indication to prohibit salmon farming in all protected areas, but that she was going to fight back, to insist on the project in the next Aquaculture Law.

“It was almost a declaration of war by the minister against salmon farming. We asked if the new law contemplated a social platform, since we unfortunately see a large ideological-political bias and they are forgetting that the entire region sees its source of work threatened.”

Katia Inostroza: "It was almost a declaration of war by the minister against salmon farming."

'She didn't care'

For Inostroza it was quite important that Rojas “knew how we Ayseninos want to develop, but the truth is she didn’t care, in fact she suspended the activities she had planned in the region”.

Regarding the prohibition of salmon production in any protected area, Inostroza said: “We are not going to allow it from our trench, as she indicates, because it is practically calling us to a war.”

Renato Flores, leader of artisanal fishing in Aysén, also attended the meeting with Rojas and has made it clear that fishers will not allow the Government to restrict activities key for the region such as salmon farming by removing concessions from all protected areas.

“It was not a surprise, because the minister had stated it when the Biodiversity Service Law was approved, that they would insist on removing salmon farming concessions and also artisanal fishing from all protected areas,” he told Salmonexpert.

'An extreme ideology'

“We thought that she was going to think better of it, but that’s not the case, she said that they are coming with everything because before they had lost like in the war and that they were on the attack. This shows that these people have an extreme ideology, since it is not about taking care of the environment; we all want to do that, however it must be balanced.”

In Flores’ opinion, the Government – based 1,440 kilometres to the north in Santiago – is using the issue of climate change as an excuse, “but the contribution that Chile makes to this in terms of emissions is almost zero”.

“Even if no productive or extractive economic activity were carried out, we would not change the history of humanity,” he added. “As long as the most industrialised countries, the big ones, do not change, it will be of no use.”

Producing food is a necessity, it is not a whim, the State gave all the facilities to set up for salmon farming and now, with other administrators, they want to get rid of the industry

Artisanal fishers leader
Renato Flores

Flores agrees with Rojas that salmon pose a risk as an exotic species, “but there are many exotic species in Chile, and they have been managed very well without posing a danger. Producing food is a necessity, it is not a whim, the State gave all the facilities to set up for salmon farming and now, with other administrators, they want to get rid of the industry”.

Switched to salmon

Many fishermen have switched to provide services to salmon farming, and unfortunately, the Government now wants to eliminate both activities, he said.

“In Aysén this Government wants to eliminate both salmon farming and artisanal fishing. My question is, then, what are we going to do in the region for development,” asked Flores.

“I proposed that we hold a regional consultation, to find out what people think about eliminating salmon farming and fishing, because for environmentalists we all cause damage and no one could carry out productive activities under that logic.

“They cannot pretend that the entire region is a park and reserve, [unless] they paid us [all] as park rangers. One could not expect much more from this Government, which is totally lost: they want more income from taxes, but for that, it is necessary to have productive development.

“They create more public services and take those quite juicy salaries into their pockets. We are very worried, that is why we will take action, we will defend the economic activities of the region together, otherwise, since we are in the hands of these inept people, they will make our lives miserable with their terrible measures. We hope that they react in time, we must unite, and not allow this.”