Social unrest in Chile led to USD 656,000 in delayed salmon exports, official says

Published on
December 18, 2019

Social protests and violence that erupted in Chile mid-October, including mobilizations at the salmon-farming area of Quellón and at ports used to move harvested salmon, cost around CLP 500 million (USD 656,485, EUR 589,076) in delays, according to Francisco Muñoz, the economy minister for southern Chile’s Los Lagos region.

The protests caused a 7 percent delay in volume with respect to the contracts that needed to be filled, Muñoz told SeafoodSource. Los Lagos represents 34 percent of all of Chile’s salmon breeding, while the region’s processing plants handle more than 70 percent of the salmon harvested.

“We’re not talking about losses, beyond that which happened at Quellón [where there was a five-day strike and some infrastructure was damaged], but there were delays during the month of October,” he said.

During the disruptions, cargo was re-directed at the ports to avoid losses. The economy official said that some 30,000 units were lost due to deterioration at the plants where the workers were striking and access blocked; however the rest of the units were already at collection centers.

“We cut it very close to the time limits in reaching agreements with the stakeholders in order to not lose all that was in the nurseries,” he said.

The protests have since quieted down, and “all has now returned to normal” in Los Lagos’ salmon sector, Muñoz said.

“With the information we have from [Chile's national fisheries service] Sernapesca, services are permanently up and running in Los Lagos and we’re working with customs as well as Sernapesca so that exports can be declared directly, that’s an advantage we’re working on today,” Muñoz said.  “We’re also following up on the logistics, be that via airport, the ports of Talcahuano, Lirquén, and San Antonio, which are the ports used for fishing transport. The declaration of origin comes from Los Lagos, and that has sped up the processes.”

Nationwide, people took to the streets to express disconformity over issues as wide as social inequality, Chile’s overall cost of living, low minimum salaries, disappointing retirement system returns, politicians seen as out of touch with reality, and justice perceived as unfairly favoring the country’s elite.

In the Los Lagos region, one of the demands the workers had in order to advance in negotiations was to be hired directly and not to have their work outsourced under service contracts. Muñoz said that “some of those contracts had to be corrected under the agreements reached with the workers,” taking into consideration monthly harvesting periods and other periods during the year, depending on Atlantic salmon or coho harvests.

“In my point of view, the industry needs to focus more on communication. There is a good relationship with the workers in terms of labor policies and personnel development, but what came up in the meetings was the relationship with the rest of the stakeholders – particularly students that were concerned about environmental stewardship and with working conditions,” he said. “So there was an agreement reached with commitments to artisanal fishermen.”

As a result, the industry committed to have higher stakeholder participation and assessment in the industry’s environmental policies and practices.

“There was concern about contamination of the sea floor in the cultivation centers,” he added. “So they [the stakeholders] were invited to go and visit these centers. The second had to do with treatment of industrial wastewater at the processing plants. Salmon Chile’s commitment there was to organize stakeholder visits to tour the facilities and get to know how the industry works in both areas.”

The official noted that in this respect, technical revisions are performed and samples taken on a regular basis by the companies themselves, external laboratories, and government via Sernapesca and the Superintendent of the Environment. Another issue is the blooming of harmful algae, whose control committee is in the community of Quellón.

“As an industry, we’ve agreed to improve the processes and the communication channels with society, and with this event we realized there was a failure there, more so than the processes or environmental or labor situations. We’ll address this together with the community,” he added.

Photo courtesy of Chile Ministry of the Economy and Turism

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