Ricardo García details Camanchaca's challenges, market conditions, production
Santiago, Chile-based Salmones Camanchaca CEO Ricardo García recently presented at the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil (IFFO) conference in Lima, Peru, where he extolled salmon farming’s efficiencies to meet protein needs in a world whose population is growing but whose resources are limited. However, the salmon farming industry in Chile has increasingly been questioned over matters such as sustainability and environmental stewardship. SeafoodSource spoke with García on the sidelines of the conference to know more about the issues the company is facing in its home market.
SeafoodSource: What is your take on the Chilean congress’s move to limit aquaculture concessions awarded in the country, particularly in protected areas?
García: My view is that Chile already has one of the most-stringent restrictions and protections of the ocean in the world. We have to compare ourselves with our main competitor, which is Norway. Chile is the 12th country in the world when it comes to protected areas in the ocean, with one of the highest levels of total protected area, while Norway is in 45th place. If you were to take that comparison to the per capita level, or percentage of continental surface, Chile would be much higher, number one or two in the world.
So we already have a great effort in ocean conservancy. In that light, we believe that some of these proposed measures are very much exaggerated. Chile’s salmon farming uses a total area of about 7,000 to 8,000 hectares to produce the amount of proteins that it exports to the world. That surface area is equivalent to a small borough in Chile. If you compare the area that is used for the cultivation of crops or cattle, the surface area that we use is close to nothing for the value that we produce when it comes to proteins.
I think these parliamentary measures are exaggerated and they don’t take into consideration the competitive advantage that Chile has, which is the Humboldt Current and the Equatorial Current in a country that has lots of islands, fjords, and archipelagos in which the water is protected.
Salmon fishing is completely compatible with the sustainable use of the oceans. We need good regulations, not necessarily more regulations, to take advantage of improved environmental spaces that salmon farming could have, making it more efficient. For over 10 years, one of the main issues in Chile – but where there have been no advances, which is the responsibility of the authorities – has to do with the merger and relocation of aquaculture concessions. We could have significant advances in favorable environmental impact and efficiencies in salmon production, if we could advance decidedly in that area. These are small relocations, all with an environmental view. But that has not advanced.
SeafoodSource: How can Camanchaca address this? What can the company do?
García: We as a company can’t control what the government or congress does. If this does advance, it would be a great step forward for the aquaculture sector, which is the greatest source of development and employment for the economy in the south of Chile.
We hope that common sense prevails. The sector trade associations have been trying to persuade [the government], providing information on this so that the issue can be understood. We now just have to trust common sense and in doing things with a scientific base. When you do that, you can have improvements in environmental impact, as well as in production.
SeafoodSource: The winds of economic uncertainty are blowing. How will you address this in markets like the U.S.?
García: We’re in the world of proteins, which gives us a certain advantage in that people need to keep eating. And when it comes to world consumption, there have been a few structural changes. People are eating more in the home, and they’re looking to eat healthier. Those trends favor seafood, and within the category of seafood, the big players are salmon and shrimp. And when you compare the nutritional value between salmon and other seafood, salmon has its advantages. So in a volatile, perhaps recessionary world, the category we’re in is more easily defendable. We are not considered a luxury item, like we were 20 to 30 years ago. Today it’s much more transversal – you have people looking to eat healthier, the post-pandemic world wants to eat better, and you have sustainability issues that also favor salmon. This is a competitive animal in an increasingly complex world.
SeafoodSource: What is Camanchaca's strategy in regard to exports?
García: We have a strategy that adjusts according to the market conditions. Global markets are not perfect, and we need to have flexibility to be able to respond to opportunities. Camanchaca has the size that permits this – it is large enough to be an important player in each market, but it’s not too big where it has to be tied up with a particular market.
SeafoodSource: Do you have your eyes on China?
García: We used to. Five years ago, everyone was looking at China because it was growing, it was open, and it invited attention. Today, we’ll see what happens when it comes to the market opening, and facilities to do commerce with them. Things have gotten complicated – lockdowns, difficulties for people to circulate, [closures or restrictions at] the ports. People can’t leave their homes. According to the latest statistic that I saw, in Asia, 80 percent of the seafood is eaten outside of the house, in restaurants. So there are problems when you don’t let them out of the house.
SeafoodSource: Camanchaca has plans to increase production to 70,000 metric tons (MT) in three years, compared to current levels of about 47,000 MT, which is a significant increase. How will you achieve this?
García: The current levels will be done in Atlantic salmon. If we add coho, we should surpass 50,000 MT this year.
You have to take a look at our situation through the prism of the last two years, including the pandemic, the losses we had resulting from the drop in prices in 2020, the algae bloom we had in the second quarter last year. Before the pandemic, we were close to 55,000 MT. Our current infrastructure can handle 55,000 to 60,000 MT, so the increase in three to four years would be 20 percent higher.
We already have the concessions to do this, as well as the history of past sowings. Part of our concessions are rented under a joint venture in the trout industry, which we do not operate. But that will return to the company in 2028 and so that gives us more space to continue growing. Also, working with coho salmon gives us the opportunity to work in certain areas that may be riskier in the summertime – due to [heat], algae blooms, lower oxygen – for Atlantic salmon. So we are moving the production of Atlantic salmon more towards Region XI [in Chile's far south], which is less exposed to these risks, and using our concessions in Region X more for production of coho salmon. This permits us to aspire to those levels of production. We have the concessions, the processing plants, the distribution capacity, and the people to administrate 65,000 to 70,000 MT. It’s an issue of prudence, how much more to sow, how to use the concessions, [and] use of technology to remediate and mitigate risk.
We’re improving and implementing a number of measures to reduce the impacts of phenomena that have happened to us. To the extent that these technologies and operations prove effective, we can take more advantage of our capacity. But the goal of 70,000 MT is one for which the company is prepared, we don’t have to make any investments beyond mitigating risks and plant increases. Conceptually, the company is ready for this.
Photo courtesy of Salmones Camanchaca