Chilean legislators preparing bill to curb salmon robbery

Salmon theft costs the country as much as USD 80 million each year, the Chilean government is working to create harsher punishments for the crime
A member of the Chilean national law enforcement
A member of the Chilean national law enforcement | Photo courtesy of El Mostrador
6 Min

Chilean legislators are preparing a bill that would stiffen penalties for salmon theft, strengthen controls around the illicit practice, and enable the use of special investigation techniques for prosecution.

The bill stipulates that the salmon industry is one of Chile’s most significant economic activities, with salmon exports bringing the country USD 6.7 billion (EUR 6.2 billion) annually – 2.1 percent of its GDP – and generating more than 71,000 jobs at over 400 farming centers and 47 processing plants throughout the country.

“However, despite these positive figures, the industry also faces major challenges, including salmon theft, which is estimated to lead to losses of between USD 70 million and USD 80 million [EUR 64 million and 73 million] annually,” the bill, penned by legislator Mauro González, who represents the Los Lagos region in the south of Chile, said. “This problem has been linked to organized crime, and cases of assaults on trucks and farms have been reported, which represents a threat to both the economy and public health due to the sale of stolen products without guarantee of quality or traceability.”

According to a presentation to congress hosted by the Salmon Farmers Association in Magallanes and AquaChile, there are three types of salmon thievery that take place: robbing of trucks along highways, a practice which has increased over the past few years with worsening violence; the stealing of salmon directly from grow-out centers, which are located in isolated areas, making it impossible for authorities to respond in a timely fashion; and the robbery of mortalities destined for final disposal, which is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Salmon robbery is highly lucrative. Considering a truck with 22 metric tons (MT) of fish and an initial distribution price of CLP 5,000 (USD 5.50, EUR 5.05) per kilogram, the perpetrators would make off with more than CLP 100 million (USD 110,000, EUR 101,000) in illicit returns.

According to data from Chile’s national police force, some 961,000 kilograms of salmon were stolen in 168 registered cases between 2021 and 2023.

Similar instances of theft used to occur regularly in the Chilean timber industry, but the government passed a law in 2022 that hardened the penalties surrounding the practice and enhanced the efficacy of investigations. Forestry products are also a significant contributor to the Chilean economy, with exports having reached USD 5.56 billion (EUR 5.1 billion) in 2023.

Addressing the fact that salmon theft, when it even is prosecuted, is treated as a lesser crime, the bill would place ... 

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