The community of Tortel on the coast of Chilean Patagonia can breathe a sigh of relief. As a direct result of Oceana’s campaigning, the Chilean government withdrew its proposal last week to install destructive salmon farms in this area, one of the last free from industrial salmon production. The decision comes as a major victory for the people of Tortel and their waters.
Chile ranks as the world’s second-largest producer of salmon and exported $4.4 billion worth of the fish in 2014. But the prosperity of Chile’s salmon industry has come at a high price.
Current practices employed in Chile’s salmon farms pollute the environment, destabilize traditional fisheries and harm populations of native species. Aquaculture facilities can be significant sources of pollution with excess feed, fish waste and dead fish dispersing into the surrounding environment. Captive salmon also often escape into the environment, where they can spread disease and prey on native populations. The process of feeding farmed salmon is highly problematic. According to most estimates, it takes between three to five pounds of wild-caught Chilean Jack Mackerel, anchoveta, sardines, and other smaller species or forage fish ground into fish meal to produce one pound of farmed salmon. This practice wastes countless healthy seafood meals (which could be eaten directly in the form of these smaller fish) and has led to the overfishing of forage fish.
Chile’s salmon industry is notorious for its increasingly excessive use of antibiotics to fight off bacteria and disease that threaten the stock. Antibiotic use rose 25 percent from 2013 to 2014 alone, according to government data, reaching a world record of 536,200 kg of antibiotics by the whole industry only in 2014. Norway, the main producer of farmed salmon in the world uses less than 1,000 kg a year. While Chilean officials maintain that quantities of antibiotics used are safe for human consumption, there’s widespread concern that overuse may cause human antibiotic resistance and harm marine environments. Such concern has prompted several prominent companies in the U.S. food industry, including Costco Wholesale Corp., Whole Foods Market Inc. and Trader Joe’s, to partially or entirely phase out Chilean farm salmon, according to Reuters.
Oceana in Chile partnered with several local, regional and national organizations to achieve this victory, lobbying government officials and spurring grassroots activism. Our team produced a documentary – El Secreto de Caleta Tortel – making the case for protecting Tortel’s vibrant ecosystem. And thousands of Wavemakers signed our petition requesting Chile’s Undersecretary of Fisheries Raúl Súnico withdraw the proposal to allow salmon farming in the fjords of Tortel.
While this victory is a big step, the fight is far from over. Many other areas and communities in Chilean Patagonia have already been polluted by salmon farms. These prized marine environments and the people who live there deserve better. Given its proximity to the Humboldt Current, Chile has one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world. If effectively managed, Chile’s wild and artisanal fisheries can become abundant enough to provide jobs, innumerable healthy seafood meals and increased biodiversity.
Oceana will continue to work to protect Chile’s important marine habitats from the unfettered expansion of the salmon farm industry, campaign for ending the industry’s dependence on potentially dangerous antibiotics and promote using small fish to feed people rather than to be simply ground up to create fish meal.
For the oceans,
Chief Executive Officer