Chile’s salmon industry has sustained 5 to 6 percent growth each year over the past decade, and is expected to continue along that pace for the next decade, according to SalmonChile President Arturo Clément.
“Part of the growth in recent years has been due to improvements in production indicators and not necessarily due to the production of more fish. Average weights are much higher, mortality rates are lower, and production cycles have shortened as a result of the improvements. Today the industry, through better regulation, a maturation process and more-sustainable work, has perhaps achieved the best productive results in history,” he told local newspaper El Mercurio.
According to the Chilean Customs Service, year-to-date salmon and trout exports through August totaled USD 3.21 billion (EUR 2.77 billion), 7.4 percent higher than the USD 2.99 billion (EUR 2.58 billion) earned during the same period of 2020, which Clément credited to the reactivation of international markets and the recovery of the hotel, restaurant, and catering (HORECA) channel from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chile’s main export markets are the U.S., Japan, and Brazil. Customs Service figures show that during the first eight months of 2021, salmon and trout exports to the U.S. surged 24 percent to USD 1.49 billion (EUR 1.29 billion) compared to USD 1.2 billion (EUR 1 billion) from the same period last year. Shipments to Japan dropped 9.5 percent to USD 556 million (EUR 480 million) in January through August, while figures to Brazil jumped 60 percent year-over-year to USD 435 million (EUR 375 million).
Clément said he expects China to soon become one of the world's biggest salmon markets, and that Chile is well-positioned for that eventuality.
“Once the COVID-19 situation begins to normalize, China will resume the growth it had before the pandemic. In the two years prior to the health emergency, China's growth was impressive and, as a result of the restrictions that exist today, it has been complex to develop that market, but I believe that it has significant potential,” he said. “Once the COVID situation is normalized, China will grow more than any other market in the world.”
Toward the end of 2020, SalmonChile launched a four-month digital marketing campaign to regain the confidence of Chinese consumers. The Chinese government had restricted imports of salmon and other seafood in the wake of rumors that a spike of COVID-19 in Beijing was linked to salmon. In response, Chilean authorities took steps to calm fears over a link between the virus and imported salmon.
Chile's customs figures show that salmon and trout shipments to China reached USD 43 million (EUR 37 million) in the first eight months this year, falling 64.8 percent from the USD 122 million (EUR 105 million) seen between January and August 2020.
Clément said besides China, other countries of interest include Mexico and the Middle East, where he said seafood consumption is lower than what it could be.
Clément said SalmonChile's domestic focus will be on consolidating operations and ensuring environmental sustainability.
“Today we have 1,300 concessions and use 400. We have to insist on a better territorial ordering where all the activities in the sea can have their space and development. In this sense, we want to continue promoting the process of mergers and relocation of concessions,” he said. “This is a process that has been 10 years in the making and we must continue working to have fewer but larger concessions, with a greater distance between each other, which is very normal from an environmental, health, and productive point of view.”
Clément said his association is working with Chile's federal and regional governments, special interest groups, NGOs, and local communities to establish a strategy to ensure aquaculture development is compatible with other activities at sea. He said he hopes to have the issue of territorial reorganization, with the possibility of merging concessions, considered by governmental resolution by the end of the year.
Another of the industry’s main focuses is environmental sustainability over the long-term, with SalmonChile working with authorities on issues including anchoring regulations and marine structures to minimize fish escapes, and a law to protect the seabed. Other areas of environmental stewardship include improving the industry's recycling record and moving toward a circular economy model, as well as reducing its use of antibiotics.
Chile recently created a democratically-elected constitutional convention charged with rewriting the country’s national charter, and Clément said the association is looking to address environmental issues with its members.
“The environmental issue is going to dominate [in the constitution to be defined], and so we’re preparing,” he said. “We will have proposals and we want to meet with the largest number of people possible to show salmon’s sustainability, in a very transparent way and based on science, with all the groups in the convention and politicians.”
Photo courtesy of Chilean Salmon Marketing Council