Chilean salmon back on track

To say Chile is back on track is an understatement. The country’s farmed salmon production is now in excess of what it was before the infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) outbreak decimated the industry beginning in 2007.

Speaking at the last week’s European Seafood Exposition in Brussels, Maria Eugenia Wagner, president of SalmonChile, the country’s salmon industry association, said Chile produced 385,000 metric tons of salmon and trout in 2011. That’s “a little bit more than before the crisis,” she said. Wagner refused to give a projected figure for 2012, but it can be safely assumed that production will be higher this year than in 2011.

Most of Chile’s farmed salmon is exported — salmon accounts for 3.6 percent of the country’s total exports — and sales in 2011 were worth just under USD 3 billion.

The reason for Chile’s salmon industry getting back on track is its new fisheries and aquaculture law, approved in March 2010. The law, which provides “much more power” or control over the industry, consists of five “pillars,” according to Wagner.

These have been set up to avoid the introduction of pathogens by controlling the import of eggs; to avoid vertical contamination by screening broodstock and disinfection of tributaries; to try and avoid the cross breeding of pathogens by ensuring the bio security of ships and processing plants and stipulating fallow periods; the mandatory vaccination of fish before they are put out to sea; and putting in place contingency measures and protocols if ISA or another disease occurs.

In total there are 44 sanitary regulations covering the whole production process. Implementation of the new production system required an investment of more than USD 500 million.

“These five pillars guarantee that salmon farming in Chile is sustainable for the future,” said Wagner. The law has had another beneficial effect in that there has been an improvement in production. “The average weight of the fish is now higher and there is less mortality,” she said. (The average slaughter weight has increased from about 3 kilograms per fish in 2009 to about 5 kilograms in 2012, and the mortality rate is now at an all time low of 0.5 percent.)

Wagner added that, contrary to comments made in Brussels by officials from other salmon-producing countries, this means that Chilean salmon does not cost more because of having to implement the law’s provisions.

Demand for farmed salmon is increasing, said Wagner. “It is very healthy and efficient to produce,” she said. And although she wouldn’t be drawn on future production levels, she did say that Chile has more space for growth. “There are sites where no production is taking place. We can, and will, expand [production] more,” she said.

The United States is the top market for Atlantic salmon farmed in Chile, while Brazil is the No. 2 market; Japan is the foremost destination for Chile’s farmed Pacific salmon. “We are developing more markets in Latin America and Southeast Asia, for example China,” said Wagner. “We export to 70 countries in total.”

Chile is also seeking to develop its domestic market and is increasing the production of value-added salmon products.

There have been no recorded outbreaks of ISA so far this year, and it will be very surprising if there is another outbreak of ISA or other disease in Chile’s farmed salmon industry in the future. The new fisheries and aquaculture law should make sure of that.

“When we have crises, we learn to avoid having another one,” said Wagner.

The evidence is there that this is certainly true when it comes to farming salmon. Chile is the world’s No. 2 farmed salmon producer, and who’s to say that it won’t surpass Norway to become No 1.


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