The Simpson River faces its greatest threat in the Aysén region

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Photo: Daniel RojasPhoto: Daniel Rojas
By Luis Goycoolea
"The trout are changing their morphology, turning white," says an alarmed Gabriel "Gabo" Benoit, a guide and expert fly fisherman in the Aysén region. His passion for the sport has led him to travel throughout Chile to fish, from north to south, in the sea, lakes, rivers and mountain streams; even brands like Patagonia sponsor him to help promote fly fishing in the country. But in his travels Benoit says he is seeing serious threats to the future of fly fishing in Chile.
"In Chile, the biggest problem facing fly fishing today is what we are seeing in the Aysén region, with the extraction of sand and gravel from rivers," he says. Benoit says he has counted at least eight companies using the river banks of the region to extract aggregates, but there are likely more.
"How is that possible? A few weeks ago I was fishing at the Simpson River with Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia outdoor clothing company, and after just an hour of fishing the river began to get cloudy! Unthinkable. A few miles up from someone was extracting from the river banks,” said Benoit.
During the present summer season, tourism has experienced a marked increase in the Aysen region for both fishing and other outdoor activities, despite the landslide in December in Villa Santa Lucia that has blocked the scenic road in the region known in Spanish as the Carretera Austral. “Every year we see more and more people coming here to practice all kinds of sports, like rafting, fishing or mountain biking,” he says.
As such, as a fishing guide he is concerned that the extraction is impacting flora and fauna and the future of tourism here. "To make matters worse, we have noticed that the trout are changing their morphology, turning them white. That is tremendous damage. The extraction is seriously impacting the course of the waters and their trout population,” adds Benoit.
The solution? He thinks, and then responds: "That is a job for the local government together with the people who live in the area. The sport fishing industry generates a lot of resources in the region: jobs, opens new lodges, add guides, tour companies, there are many people who depend on the health of this sector.”
And Benoit adds that today’s youth in Aysen are much more eco-conscious than previous generations, but that the local culture and circumstances are still moving in the opposite direction. "They're not giving them the tools. They are taught, they arrive for vacations and when they leave they see that the roads are cut, that in the river there are machines, that they cannot enter the Coyhaique Reserve to ride bikes. It's a contradiction.”

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