Mowi Chile hit with USD 6.7 million fine over 2018 salmon escape

Chile’s Superintendency of the Environment, SMA, has levied a CLP 5.3 billion (USD 6.7 million, EUR 5.7 million) fine against Mowi for what the watchdog said was “irreparable environmental damage” resulting from the escape of more than 690,000 Atlantic salmon from one of its farms in 2018.

The escape occurred in July 2018 during adverse weather conditions at the salmon farmer’s Punta Redonda center.

The fine responds to “the Punta Redonda Farming Center did not maintain the appropriate security conditions and cultivation elements of optimal quality and resistance” as outlined in Chile’s environmental resolutions, resulting in the mass escape, SMA announced.

In its sanctioning procedure SMA cited outdated water current measurements at the Los Lagos region, Calbuco district center built in 2017, failure to implement recommended moorings, and evidence of wear and tear of the nets and mooring lines to which the company did not respond, as cause for the fine.

“We’re absolutely pleased and satisfied with the process carried out by the SMA, which resulted in an exemplary fine,” the director of Chile’s national fishing service (Sernapesca), Alicia Gallardo, said on YouTube, underlining both SMA and Sernapesca’s role in defending sector sustainability.

The resolution to sanction Mowi “wraps up a long and thorough investigation on our part,” SMA head Cristóbal De La Maza said.

“We want to signal that all those companies that fail to respect the regulations or infringe them, causing environmental damage, as in this case, will be sanctioned proportionally,” he said.

For its part, Mowi Chile emitted a statement in which it denied any environmental damage and said it would appeal the fine.

“The SMA resolution is based exclusively on a legal presumption that has no scientific basis,” it said.  

The company insisted that numerous studies performed following the incident prove that Atlantic salmon is not a predator and cannot colonize or survive outside the center, and that a large quantity of the escaped salmon was caught by third parties and then sold in the informal trade, “a fact that unfortunately was not considered by the authorities.”

According to the SMA, the escape created a two-pronged environmental risk: alterations in the biogeochemical cycles of the marine habitat from decomposing mortality, and the transmission of pathogens and diseases resulting from contact and the interaction between escaped salmon and wild fauna.

The sanction is sure to cause waves with sector players, particularly those that have suffered similar incidents. Most recently in Chile, salmon farmer Blumar saw 16 of its 18 cages sink in heavy storms on 27 June at its Caicura grow-out center, resulting in mass mortality and escapes. An estimated 771,405 salmon – equivalent to 88 percent of the fish in the center and weighing in at an estimated at 2,900 metric tons (MT) – are estimated to have perished at a depth of 295 meters.

That incident led Chile’s Undersecretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture (Subpesca) to prepare new, more stringent regulations on salmon farming structures in order to reduce the risk of cages sinking or fish escaping.

Photo courtesy of Superintendency of the Environment


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