Chile mulling moratorium on salmon-industry expansion, operation in protected areas
Chile President Gabriel Boric is reportedly considering a moratorium on the farmed salmon sector that would halt its expansion in the country.
The 36-year-old Boric, the youngest president in Chile’s history, was elected in December 2021 and took office in March 2022. Previously, as a member of Chile's congress, he questioned the environmental sustainability of the country’s USD 5.2 billion (EUR 4.6 billion) salmon-farming industry. Boric hails from Chile’s southernmost region of Magallanes, where the salmon-farming sector has been expanding its reach.
According to reports in the Chilean press, Boric called for “a moratorium on salmon farming, so that it doesn’t continue to grow."
"As a minimum, there can be no salmon farming in protected areas," he said.
Boric called for the moratorium while visiting his hometown of Punta Arenas to announce a new national policy that plans economic aid for isolated areas of the country.
Boric said that during his time in congress, he and other came to the conclusion that the country’s salmon-farming industry “has been very thoughtless in its actions,” a position he said he still holds as president. During his time in the lower house of Chile’s government, he worked on a bill to declare a moratorium on any expansion of salmon farming in the country until a study is completed into the capacity of the region's maritime bed to absorb the stresses created by commercial-scale salmon farming.
“We have to aim for development that doesn’t destroy us, because to destroy the environment is to destroy ourselves,” Boric said. “What is clear to me is that there can be no salmon-farming industry in marine protected areas. That's as simple as … enforcing the law.”
Boric said, given the number of people that the salmon sector employs, the moratorium proposal should be debated openly. Any change to the current laws governing the salmon industry must be done under the understanding that a simple closure would leave families that depend on the industry in dire straits, he said.
A bill introduced in Chile’s Chamber of Deputies, or lower congressional house, at the end of 2021 would amend an existing law – Law No. 18,892 on Fisheries and Aquaculture – in a way that would exclude the cultivation of exotic hydrobiological species in protected areas – which includes salmon. The proposal sets two years from the date the law would be published for the expiration of aquaculture concessions awarded in protected areas. The initiative looks to expand that protection to cover marine parks, national parks, national reserves, and forests.
However, the removal or rescinding of salmon-farming concessions in protected areas will threaten the source of employment of more than 4,000 families, Association of Salmon Farmers of Magallanes Executive Director Pablo Berazaluce told SalmonExpert.
“Currently, in the Magallanes region there are 133 salmon concessions granted, which were granted before the creation of the Kawésqar National Reserve,” he said. “When the reserve was created, about 50 percent of these concessions were within its limits. Therefore, eliminating them or allowing them to expire, as the bill intends, would affect around 50 percent of the production in the area and put at risk the industry's operational viability in the region, and the 6,400 direct and indirect jobs it generates.”
Berazaluce said the area in question that salmon farms operate represents only 0.54 percent of the reserve’s sea area. The farms operating there must comply with strict requirements and regulations, and that the aquaculture companies working in the area have never been found to be operating illegally, Berazaluce said.
“This is an issue of territorial management," he said. "The decision was made to transform the sea into a category of special protection and there are groups with specific interests that seek to expel salmon farming without thinking about the consequences."
Boric’s push for a moratorium is not unexpected, as he previously said the expansion of salmon farming in his native Magallanes region threatens numerous national parks and protected areas and their biodiversity and ecosystems, while not solving any of the problems that led the farms to be established there.
“The justification for transferring salmon farming to Magallanes from the Los Lagos and Aysén regions was that the problems present there such as sea lice would not develop in Magallanes due to the pristine and cold-water conditions, but in reality [those problems] were transferred [to Magallanes],” the president noted in the past. “We need to find the best ways to solve these problems.”
Boric’s proposed priorities concerning Chile’s salmon-farming industry include:
- Conducting an evaluation of the environmental and economic impact of aquaculture in the southern macrozone, especially in terms of water quality, biological diversity, and sea floors.
- Increasing investment in Sernapesca, Chile’s fisheries and aquaculture agency, allowing it to conduct additional, more thorough salmon-farming inspections, including the use of state-of-the-art technology, training of new inspectors, and the construction of new vessels.
- Increasing funding for Sernapesca to ensure salmon farms are complying with the country’s environmental rules.
- Completing a territorial reorganization and reassessment of the country’s areas deemed suitable for aquiculture.
- Studying the impact salmon-farming densities have on the environment and decreasing permitted densities if deleterious impacts are discovered.
- Evaluating outsourced service provider companies to determine whether those firms operate within acceptable environmental and social standards.
- Promoting dialogue between the industry’s corporate leaders and workers to define how to improve the production process to make it more sustainable without harming employment.
Photo courtesy of the Chilean Government