Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego bans coastal salmon farming

The legislature in Argentina’s southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego has unanimously approved a bill prohibiting salmon farming.

According to a press release from environmentalist organization Rewilding Argentina, salmon farming concessions being considered in the region would have threatened a biodiversity hotspot containing 50 percent of Argentina's macroalgae forests, which act as carbon sinks, the NGO said. Rewilding Argentina said salmon farming in the region was “threatening not only the environment but also its inhabitants' health and economy.”

Greenpeace Argentina celebrated the passing of the bill, which it said made Argentina the first country in the world to prohibit salmon aquaculture.

“This event sets a historical precedent for the rest of the country and the world. Tierra del Fuego will avoid the environmental disaster that salmon farming may have caused," the organization said on Twitter. "It is a great triumph for citizens and civil and environmental organizations."

The local movement to stop aquaculture in the waters of southern Argentina – notably, in the Beagle Channel – took root in March 2018, when agreements were signed between Innovation Norway, Argentina’s Ministry of Agriculture and Industry, the Argentinean Foundation for the Promotion of Investments and International Trade, and the province of Tierra del Fuego, in which the parties agreed to investigate possibilities for local salmon aquaculture development. Environmental organizations – including Greenpeace, Rewilding Argentina (established by late businessman and conservationist Douglas Tompkins, founder of clothing companies Esprit and The North Face) and its marine ecosystem conservation branch, Sin Azul No Hay Verde (SANHV) - argued the industry represented a risk to the area’s environment and tourism sector.

The movement was embraced not just by environmental organizations, but well-known chefs, indigenous groups, and even Tierra del Fuego politicians, including current vice-governor Mónica Urquiza and provincial legislator Pablo Villegas. When in 2019, the Argentine government and the Tierra del Fuego province signed an agreement with Norway to develop penned salmon production in the province, local protests forced the government to call a temporary halt to the project. Villegas, of the “Movimiento Popular Fueguino” party, later introduced the successful bill to ban the salmon industry in the region.

"The sanction of this law is a clear and forceful institutional definition that highlights the importance for the people of Tierra del Fuego of the protection and conservation of our natural resources, the genetic heritage of our living beings and their environment for sustainable economic development," Villegas said after the bill passed with unanimous approval. “This is a vote in favor of life and economic activities, such as tourism, that actually create local work and economic development that favors and benefits various social sectors. The message is clear: if we work with our heads and hearts, with conviction, commitment, passion and responsibility, we can achieve things. Saying ‘no’ to salmon farms is possible.”

A high-profile opponent to salmon farming has been Argentine celebrity chef, author, and restaurateur Francis Mallmann. Mallmann is one of South America's most-famous chefs and owns a number of restaurants in the region.

"Having sailed on the Beagle Channel with the descendants of natives who for thousands of years harvested fruits of the sea from this pristine place, and being able to keep it as it is, adds to our respect for our traditions and a healthier planet," he said in a statement.

Tierra del Fuego’s move has had ripple affects across borders. The 240 kilometer-long Beagle Channel is a strait in Tierra del Fuego Archipelago on the southern tip of South America; its eastern area forms part of the border between Argentina and Chile. The salmon-farming industry in Chile is valued at USD 4.4 billion (EUR 3.6 billion) annually, ranking it as one of Chile’s largest export sectors.

Organizations that have opposed salmon-farming development in Chile, including Defendamos Chiloé, as well as the Yagan and Kawesqar indigenous groups, celebrated Argentina’s historical decision.

"This example shows that there are no borders, the channel does not separate us; on the contrary, it makes us stronger," David Alday, a representative of the Yagan people, was quoted as saying in Chilean press. "The law passed in Argentina must be replicated in Chile and Puerto Williams [on Navarino Island in the Beagle Channel, where salmon farmers have set up operations] must establish development based on what the local communities propose."  

Photo courtesy of Oleksii G/Shutterstock


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