The Beacon

Chilean Salmon: What’s Next?

A bird in the waters of Chilean Patagonia. © Oceana/Emily Fisher

I’m back stateside after a month working in our Santiago office and visiting Chilean Patagonia, and I wanted to give a quick wrap-up and tell you a little more about Oceana’s role in the region and what we can expect in the coming months.

Last week I wrote about my encounters with some of the most beautiful wilderness I’ve ever seen, as well as two salmon farms, Caleta Delano and Bahia Perales, the latter of which was recently found to have been infected with Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA), the disease that paralyzed the industry in 2007.

But let me back up -- what’s so bad about farming salmon? Here’s a bit of background on the environmental problems associated with salmon aquaculture in Chile:

Pollution: Fish waste and excess feed can cause rapid algae growth that pollutes the water surrounding aquaculture pens, and in some cases, creates an oxygen-deprived dead zone. A salmon farm of 200,000 fish releases roughly the amount of fecal matter equivalent to the untreated sewage of a city with 65,000 people. The waste collects under net pens, polluting the seafloor and surrounding waters.

Overcrowding: The high densities of fish in net pens used by fish farms lead to disease outbreaks and a higher prevalence of diseases, such as ISA.

Antibiotics: As a result of the disease outbreaks, the fish are treated with antibiotics, reducing the effectiveness of the same drugs for human diseases.

Escapes: Millions of farmed fish escape into the environment each year, where they can spread disease and compete with, or even prey on, wild fish populations.

Overfishing: As carnivores, farmed salmon require huge quantities of fish oil and fishmeal, making them heavily dependent on wild fisheries. In Chile, it takes more than eight kilos of fish meal to produce one kilo of salmon, resulting, ironically, in a net loss of protein to feed the world.

Oceana has been working to improve the sanitary and environmental standards of the salmon aquaculture industry in Chile for years, and we have made significant progress, helping to pass new regulations to prevent salmon escapes and limit the use of antibiotics.

In Patagonia, we have been working to establish a Marine Protected Area around a pristine area called Tortel, where our Chilean colleagues have completed several expeditions to the area, capturing underwater photos and video of the area’s rich biodiversity.

The next few months are critical for the Patagonian region of Magallanes; in April, the region’s waterfront zoning process is scheduled for completion. Oceana, together with representatives from the tourism and artisanal fishing industries, is working to exclude specific areas from salmon farming that are the most ecologically sensitive and important for tourism and fishing.

I spoke to Don Teobaldo Ruiz, the president of the Chamber of Tourism in Puerto Natales, Chile. As the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park, Puerto Natales is the epicenter of tourist activities in Chilean Patagonia. “We in the tourism industry simply ask that they don’t affect the places that are important for tourism development, which in reality, is practically all of Magallanes,” he said.

We’ll be sure to keep you posted on the industry’s development in the region.


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