Chile’s salmon players question government move to transfer fishing authority

Published on
June 2, 2020

The agriculture committee in Chile’s lower house of congress has approved a bill that would expand the Ministry of Agriculture’s reach to include food and rural development, thereby assuming control of the Sub-Secretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture (Subpesca) and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca).

Both fishing authorities are currently under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economy. While actors in the fishing industry generally agree that the move would be positive, they question the timing of the bill and the way it has been approached.

According to Carlos Odebret, president of the Magallanes Salmon Farmers Association, the creation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Development is encouraging in that “it considers salmon as a foodstuff and as a relevant actor in the country's export basket, which is very powerful,” he told Salmonexpert. “Here is a kind of recognition that, in general, aquiculture institutionalism requires strengthening; it admits there is weakness … We have to see how the different areas would communicate, how synergies are established between the regulatory agencies and those that establish the regulations, and how the aquaculture and fishery sector adjusts to that.”

The association had not formed part of the discussion in the bill creating the new ministry, he added. This is a point with which other actors have taken issue, such as the case of the Chilean Society for Marine Sciences (SCHCM), which questioned “the low participation in the discussion of sectors directly affected, such as, for example, fishermen's and aquaculture associations,” especially when taking into account “the importance of the initiative.”

The organization questioned the timing of the bill, considering “the serious national and worldwide [coronavirus] pandemic that afflicts us, in addition to the outbreak of social protest in our country.”

“There are clearly other social priorities and of greater relevance, in our opinion, because the next few months will be very delicate with respect to food security,” it said in a statement. “Those in charge of food production, distribution and control need to be able to focus on this activity, and not get involved in a discussion that will be very important in the future, but disturbing at this time.”

The bill approval "was rushed and is not happening at the right time, taking into account this global pandemic that affects us," Subpesca Officials Association President Roland Hagger said in a statement, according to the Terram Foundation. In addition, more than 90 percent of the bill’s text has to do with agriculture issues that are unrelated to aquaculture or fishing, he added, and "we would only be moving houses; it does not lay the foundations for a great modernization of the sector."

SCHCM also pointed out that while the promotion of a competitive, sustainable agri-food, fishery, aquaculture and forestry system would drive rural development, only two of the aforementioned sectors would be considered in the bill. It called for the formation of at least three sub-secretariats: agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, and forestry.

“This bill creates many doubts and we do not believe that it has been adequately formulated or rationally structured. If we want a solid institutional framework for fisheries and aquaculture, it must be discussed widely and by all the actors involved. Without any exclusions, we must have enough time for a critical and in-depth analysis of this proposal, so that the contributions are deeply discussed and based on the best information available,” it said.

This is not the first time the measure has been considered. It originally came up in 2013 but was eventually withdrawn by then-President Michelle Bachelet in April 2014.

The bill will now head to the floor of the lower house to be voted upon.

Photo courtesy of Sernapesca

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