Chile’s government mulls tougher laws to combat increasing salmon theft

Published on
January 24, 2023
SalmonChile Territorial Director Tomás Monge

Chile’s government is considering specific laws to combat the robbery of particular goods, including farmed salmon, cattle, and copper cables.

The proposal – introduced by Chile Minister of the Interior and Public Safety Carolina Tohá – aims to fill a regulatory void. It follows the passage of a similar law enacted in 2022 that was successful in reducing lumber theft.

Thefts of truckloads of farmed salmon being transported from farming centers to Chile's markets or airports have grown more common, and are linked to organized crime, Diario Concepción reported

In October 2022, detectives from the Puerto Montt Criminal Investigation Brigade of the national investigative police, PDI, arrested 30 individuals allegedly affiliated with a criminal organization dedicated to stealing salmonid products unfit for human consumption destined for processing into fishmeal and fish oil. PDI said it said was one of the largest busts in Los Lagos in recent history.

“They processed these products illegally, in squalid sanitary conditions … to be sold in markets in Puerto Montt,” Los Lagos Region Adjunct Prosecutor Marcello Samuceti said in an interview with national television station TVN

The group is believed to have earned more than CLP 16 million (USD 19,000, EUR 18,000) per week through the scam. PDI officers confiscated numerous firearms and vehicles from those arrested, as well as significant sums of money allegedly to be used for bribes. Participation of members of the national police force, the carabineros, could not be ruled out, Samuceti said. 

In December 2022, 14 people were sentenced to a total of more than 40 years in prison for the March 2021 theft of a truck containing approximately CLP 100 million (USD 121,000, EUR 113,000) worth of salmon in Mulchén, in Chile's Bío Bío region. During the theft, the driver of the truck was handcuffed and kidnapped, BioBioChile reported. Some of those involed were well-known wholesalers of seafood and other marine products in the Vega Monumental market, located in the regional capital of Concepción.

SalmonChile Territorial Director Tomás Monge said the industry is concerned about the worsening safety situation for salmon farmers and their logistics contractors.

“We are worried,” he said in an October 2022 El Mercurio op-ed. “We have seen with concern how salmon theft has increased, with increasingly sophisticated methods and organizations.” 

Since 2018, 115 cases of salmon theft have been officially filed, involving more than 2,000 metric tons of fish worth some USD 12 million (EUR 11 million). That total does not include unreported incidents and the hundreds of additional undetected thefts in farming centers, Monge said.

“In addition, there is another even more serious phenomenon: the sustained increase in violent robbery in land transport, with more than 98 cases registered from 2019 to-date,” Monge said. “This is the crime that has grown the most in recent times, with drivers having to face kidnappings, attacks, assaults, and loss of their jobs.”

However, despite filing hundreds of complaints and participating in numerous meetings with authorities, during which critical points have been raised and concrete measures have been requested, the situation has continued to worsen, Monge said.

"We see how these unfortunate events continue to occur and increase,” he said.

Monge called for increased intersectoral coordination between the Interior Ministry, the tax service (SII), fishing authority Sernapesca, Chile's Health Ministry, Chile's Maritime Authority, and the national police to act against organized crime. 

“We have to prevent rather than regret,” he said.  

A public perception of increasing crime rates was one of the reasons political observers said the Chilean public overwhelmingly voted to reject a proposed new constitution in September 2022. While the rejection granted the salmon sector a reprieve from potential legal obstacles to its  future growth – the outcome had stronger relation to public opinion of the country's government rather than the impact the charter might have on individual industries in Chile.

In 2022, public opinion of how crime is impacting the country reached a nadir, according to non-government organization Paz Ciudadana. A poll by the NGO revealed the number of Chileans worried they could become a victim of a crime grew 7.6 percentage points, reaching 28 percent nationwide – the highest figure in 22 years – even though actual crime figures dropped to their lowest range in the past 15 years.  Paz Ciudadana attributes the rise in fears over crime to new types of crime grabbing headlines in Chile, including an uptick in the homicide rate and the rate of violent crimes, many linked to organized criminal enterprises.

According to the latest National Urban Survey of Citizen Security (Enusc), performed by the Chilean government’s National Statistics Institute (INE), in 2021, 16.9 percent of Chileans were personally victimized by a crime, down 2.3 percent drop from 2020. However, 86.9 percent of Chileans believed the nation's crime rate was increasing, surpassing the 84.3 percent reported the previous year.

Photo courtesy of SalmonChile

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