Chile's salmon industry celebrates axing of proposed aquaculture limitations

A joint committee in Chile’s congress has rejected a proposed modification to the country’s general fisheries law that would have prohibited new or renewed aquaculture concessions in protected areas.

The congressional committee rejected the article for the proposed creation of the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (SBAP), which would bar the introduction of exotic hydrobiological species – such as salmon – from such areas.

Environmental groups and conservation advocates, including the famous grunge band Pearl Jam, had pushed for the article's approval. 

“Protecting coastal biodiversity is vital to the survival of the oceans and our own species. This International Day for Biological Diversity, we're sharing our growing concern about the impact of industrial salmon farms – which are impacting fragile marine ecosystems,” the band said on 22 May in a post on its official Twitter profile. “We stand with our Chilean friends, communities, and partners calling on decision-makers to pass a ban on industrial salmon farming permits in protected areas to make good on [the] commitment to the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (SBAP) bill and Chile's role in the global biodiversity framework.⁠⁠“⁠

Conversely, salmon farming firms and many of their workers deemed the proposal unfair. The article’s could have ended a total of 431 existing salmon farming concessions, putting thousands of jobs at risk in the Los Lagos, Aysén, and Magallanes regions. In the city of Puerto Montt, more than 10,000 people – supported by ship sirens sounding in the bay – took to the streets in protest. Similar protests occurred on the island of Chiloé and in the city of Puerto Natales, all in the south of the country, where salmon farming activity is common.

After the committee axed the proposed modification, the salmon industry celebrated.

“We greatly value the fact that the voice of the people of the south – of operators, transporters, SMEs, farmers, and the great value chain of this sector – has been heard today and their concerns were addressed,” SalmonChile president Arturo Clément said.

Clément said SalmChile aimed to continue dialogue with lawmakers to “build good public policies together to lay the foundations of the aquaculture of the future.”

The congressional committee did approve a number of other articles within the bill, which aims to create a public service under Chile's Ministry of the Environment in charge of the conservation of biodiversity in Chile, including the creation of a national system of protected areas and the shepherding of conservation initiviates outside of protected areas.

Chilean regulators have cracked down on the country's salmon sector, valued at USD 6.6 billion (EUR 6.1 billion) last year, since the election of the country's current president, Gabriel Boric, in December 2021. Since then, Chile’s National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca) has upped its regulatory oversight of overproduction and fish escapes, and Chile's Superintendency of the Environment (SMA) has been more actively investigating salmon farmers and the amount of fish they are producing, levying steep penalties on companies found to have breached the parameters of their permits.

While the rejected article may provide a moment of respite for the salmon sector, there are at least two issues that will continue to be thorns in its side: new legislation  ... 

Photo courtesy of SalmonChile

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