Chile's salmon industry strikes back against Greenpeace Magallanes documentary

Magallanes artisanal fishermen.

Important figures in Chile’s Magallanes region are refuting the arguments set forth in the Greenpeace documentary “Por Aquí No” (“Not Here”) which was highly critical of the region's salmon industry.

Greenpeace Chile launched the documentary on 28 September, 2022, in theaters, with a T.V. debut on 6 October on the History Channel. Calling for an end to salmon farming in the Kawésqar National Reserve, the film stars well-known local actors as they visit the reserve, located in the Magallanes Region in Chilean Patagonia. The NGO said the film is meant to raise awareness of the need to protect the area from industry, including salmon farming, which it blames for harming indigenous communities, artisanal fishing, tourism, and the environment.

In response, the Association of Salmon Farmers of Magallanes launched an information campaign to counter claims made in the movie. The “Somos Megallanicos” (“We are Magellanes") campaign “seeks to connect, mobilize, and build a better region together with the people of the Magallanes region, to think about our future and take on common challenges.”  

The group's 28-minute film, entitled “Así No” (“Not Like That”), presents interviews with leaders of local artisanal fishing cooperatives, Kawésqar communities, various trade union representatives, and scientists, who criticize the data presented by Greenpeace in its own film.

"We went to directly ask the people of Magallanes and their representatives what they thought of the documentary,” the organization said. 

Lucía Uribe Caro, president of the Kawésqar Keskial community of Puerto Natales, said she appeared in the film because Greenpeace had claimed salmon farming would negatively impact Kawésqar cultural heritage.

“I was bothered by that video because it doesn’t show the reality that we live in Magallanes,” Uribe Caro said. “Many lies were told about the industry … I don't see [the industry] as a threat, I see it as an opportunity.”

Juan Carlos Tonko, president of a local indigenous community group in Puerto Edén, questioned Greenpeace's methods in putting together its film.

“It makes no sense when these organizations that come from outside that we practically do not know and are unaware what their objectives are, in terms of protection or conservation. They come with a concept that is very far from what corresponds to the daily activities of our culture, that is of no use to us,” Tonko said.

The video accuses Greenpeace of so-called "green colonialism," whereby international organizations take action to unilaterally protect environmental areas or cultural groups without asking the target groups if they agree with their claims or campaign.

The video cited a July 2022 United Nations report from UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples José Francisco Calí Tzay, which found protected areas sometimes disadvantaged local indigenous communities.

“Protected areas are often created without consulting or obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples, who are then excluded from the administration and management of their traditional territories and are often left without adequate compensation,” according to the U.N. report. “Indigenous peoples are, in some cases, required to purchase permits to enter their territories and face severe restrictions on their subsistence livelihood activities, such as hunting, fishing, or grazing.”

The U.N. report cautioned that efforts to create more protected areas must be done with in consultation with indigenous peoples.

“Not enough assurances have been given so far to indigenous peoples that their rights will be preserved in the process. They fear a new wave of green investment without recognition of their land tenure, management, and knowledge, increased restrictions on access to their lands, waters, and resources, and scaled-up approaches to conservation based on protected areas,” the report said. “Simply enlarging the global protected area surface without ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples dependent on those areas is not the solution.”

Jaime Cosme, an artisanal fisher and director of the Barranco Amarillo fishing cooperative, said he was frustrated with the Greenpeace documentary and its lack of directo communication with local ishers.

“When Greenpeace makes statements about artisanal fishers, they should ask us for permission first,” he said. “I would invite Greenpeace to board the artisanal fishing boats and see how artisanal fishing works. I don't know where they get so much false information. I invite them to come to Magallanes, to sail and fish with us.”

The Somos Megallanicos video allegies the Greenpeace documentary contains fallacies, such as the assertion that build-ups of salmon feces proliferate algae blooms. According to Alejandro Clement, marine biologist and manager of Plancton Andino, algae blooms date from as far back as 1972, when there was no salmon farming in the region.

“Linking algae blooms with the salmon industry is spreading fake news, and not understanding the problem,” he said. “During the government of [then-President] Michelle Bachelet, different scientists were summoned from various universities to generate a public report. They said there was no link between algae blooms and salmon farming.”

Further, the Greenpeace video shows beautiful scenes of an emblematic national park, Torres del Paine, which is a significant tourism attraction, and hints that the salmon farming industry is putting that national park in danger. However, Rodrigo Bustamante, president of the Association of Hotels and Services at Torres del Paine, pointed out that the salmon farming activities take place in the ocean, and Torres del Paine does not include any marine coastal areas.

“We’re hours away from the closest salmon farming plant, so it’d be hard to say that [salmon farming] is damaging tourism in the park,” he noted.

The Somos Megallanicos documentary accuses Greenpeace of sensationalism. It features one of the environmental NGO’s founders, Patrick Moore, who has since become a detractor of the organization.

“As we grew into an international organization, with over USD 100 million [EUR 95 million] a year coming in, a big change in attitude had occurred. The ‘peace’ in Greenpeace had faded away, and only the ‘green’ part seemed to matter now,” Moore said. “Humans, to use Greenpeace language, had become the enemies of the Earth. Putting an end to industrial growth and banning many useful technologies and chemicals became common themes of the movement. Science and logic no longer held sway. Sensationalism, misinformation and fear were what we used to promote our campaigns.”

The Greenpeace video theorizes glacier melting can be attributed to salmon farming, something Sergio Palma, professor of ocean sciences at Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso, refuted.

Palma pointed out that glacier melt is a worldwide phenomenon due to global warming resulting from the high emissions of carbon dioxide, happening in places where salmon farming does not take place – in the Arctic, Antarctic, even in the mountains above Chile’s capital of Santiago.

The Somos Megallanicos video concludes by offeringstatistics related to the salmon farming industry in Magallanes region: the industry generates 3,665 direct jobs, represents 41 percent of the region’s total exports, equivalent to USD 390 million (EUR 371 million) a year, contributing 26 percent to the region’s GDP and more than CLP 2.4 billion (USD 2.8 million, EUR 2.6 million) are paid in licenses.  

Photo courtesy of Somos Megallanicos


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