Millions of salmon die in the fjords of southern Chile

E-mail Print

Photo: Alvaro VidalPhoto: Alvaro Vidal

Ecoceanos, April 12, 2021 - The salmon industry once again surprises us with another of its health and environmental disasters. The images of the fjords and interior channels of the Los Lagos and Aysen regions show their anoxic surface, covered by a thick brown tide, produced by various blooms of harmful micro-algae (FAN). The explosive growth of these microalgae rapidly consumes the dissolved oxygen in the water column, generating anoxic processes, problems in the gills of the millions of fish that crowd the rafts-cages, and their subsequent death by suffocation.

In 2021, this is the first major environmental disaster in the main intensive farming area of the salmonid export industry. The events are taking place in the Comau fjord, continental Chiloe, Los Lagos region; and the Jacaf and Puyuhuapi canals, Aysen region.

According to the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca) report, massive fish mortalities are occurring in 9 salmon farming centers, the bloom of Heterosigma akashiwo being responsible, triggered by levels of organic contamination and climatic changes.

In the Comau fjord, only the company Salmones Camanchaca S.A. reported a mortality of 1.3 million salmon in their salmon cages in Leptepu, Porcelana and Loncochalgua. This is equivalent to a 2.2 million kilos of fish biomass, which vary between specimens weighing 450 grams and 2.5 kilos, depending on the affected center. This mortality would correspond to 11% of the total fish biomass present in Camanchaca.

In the contiguous region of Aysen, 12 salmon farming centers have activated their contingency plans due to massive mortalities, seven of them are located in the Puyuhuapi and Jacaf channels. The main cause of fish mortality in these groups is related with the harmful microalgae Leptocylindrus danicus and Leptocylindrus minimus.

To date, over 2 million kilos of fish killed by suffocation have been removed in both regions, which are used by well-boats to industrial plants for their transformation into fishmeal and fish oil for industrial animal feed for poultry, livestock. cattle, pigs, fish and pets. 


Foto: Alvaro VidalFoto: Alvaro Vidal


Business Far west: Ten companies involved in the mortality of millions of salmon and the environmental destruction of fjords and canals

A total of 10 mega-multinational companies and Chilean family clans are involved in this health-environmental disaster. They are: Cooke Aquaculture (Canada); Mowi (Norway); Cermaq / Mitsubishi (Japan); Snowdrift (Schörghuber group / Germany); AquaChile (Vial family); Yadran (Briones family); Multiexport Foods (Japanese Mitsui and families of Jose Gutierrez, Martin Borda and Alberto del Pedregal); Camanchaca (Jorge Fernandez and José Cifuentes); Marine Farm (Eblen family); and Caleta Bay.


Photo: Alvaro VidalPhoto: Alvaro Vidal


Farming millions of salmon in unique and vulnerable marine ecosystems globally
The Comau Fjord is in one of the few areas in the Los Lagos region that is home to cold water corals in its shallow depths, ecosystems of high vulnerability and with a great wealth of marine biodiversity, which are currently being seriously affected by pollution of the mega salmon industry.

The Comau and Reñihue fjords are the only places on the planet where the endemic Desmophyllum dianthus corals are found in abundance and at the surface level, because they usually inhabit deep waters.

In this unique area of fjords worldwide, there is a high concentration of 17 industrial salmon farming centers, which operate at full capacity, with a biomass of 24,000 tons (24 million kilos) of salmon in the water.

Reflecting the commitment to the economic interests of salmon exporting companies, the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service, in a controversial decision, allowed a declared stocking of 14 million salmon for the period 2020-2022.


Photo: Alvaro VidalPhoto: Alvaro Vidal


Business Council of Salmon: Blame it on climate change, drought, El Niño and La Niña
From the Chilean Salmon Council, which brings together the transnational salmon companies that operate in Chilean Patagonia, its executive director Joanna Davidovich blamed “climate change, drought, and cycles such as El Niño and La Niña (sic), which have increased the Algae bloom phenomena worldwide and are affecting our country.

The executive of a part of the salmon companies, affirmed that "the situation is constantly being monitored and all the measures established to avoid fish mortality are being taken in permanent coordination with Sernapesca and other pertinent authorities."


Photo: Alvaro VidalPhoto: Alvaro Vidal


Dr. Tarsicio Antezana: There is institutional incapacity and indolence
Dr. Tarsicio Antezana, M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Oceanography from the University of California, marine biologist from the University of Chile, and president of the Association for the Defense of the Environment and Culture of Chiloe (ADAC), stated in a note published on social networks that “the international scientific literature has established the direct relationship that exists between industrial salmon farming, eutrophication processes, and the presence / expansion of harmful micro algae. This same relationship has been suggested for intensive aquaculture in the Chiloe inland sea, especially after the red tide crisis of 2016."

Dr. Antezana exposed that “the ability to predict intense events in Chile is close to zero. Despite the occasional 5-day cruises, scientific research projects or programs, monitoring, and occasional visits by scientists from foreign institutions, or far from the Inland Sea."

The president of ADAC suggests caution in explaining the causes of these events that occur in highly complex ecosystems (e.g. multifactorial and multiscale processes). "More than spontaneous responses, I suggest questions and bold proposals of working hypotheses, experimental design, logistics implementation, experts, instruments, and financing for emergencies and the long term."

Hiding salmon farming responsibility for organic contamination, while spreading micro algae to adjacent areas
Faced with this new mass death of salmon and this serious episode of algal flowering, the Ecoceanos Centre drew attention to "the communicational marketing strategy of the Chilean Salmon Council, which is aimed at unsuspecting and uninformed consumers."

The Salmon Council "tries to relativize this disastrous situation in the fragile ecosystems of the southern fjords, blaming the current blooms of toxic and harmful micro-algae" on climate change, drought, La Niña and El Niño, "with which the companies are trying to hide the presence of organic pollutants such as phosphorus, nitrogen, ammonium and urea, coming from the thousands of tons of salmon feces, and from uneaten feed, which are emitted from the hundreds of rafts-cages into the water column and bottoms marine systems of closed systems and with slow recirculation of water from the fjords."

For Ecoceanos, "this generates environmental conditions that are triggered by climatic factors, enabling periodic micro-algae blooms."

Where do the millions of dead salmon go?
The Ecoceanos Centre also warned about the authorizations for the early harvest and the maritime transfer of salmon, with the aim of avoiding greater economic losses to the salmon companies, which however "is highly risky for the interests of the coastal communities and adjacent ecosystems, since it increases the vessels and wellboats circulation, with its potential capacity to spread and expand the presence of these harmful and toxic micro-algae to distant areas."
Salmon consumption boycott to stop the destructive expansion of industrial mega aquaculture in Chile
The Ecoceanos Centre called on the coastal communities and citizen organizations of Chilow, Aysen and Magallanes to “demand transparency from the authorities regarding the real magnitude of this new health-environmental and social disaster in the fragile and little studied fjords, inland seas and canals of Patagonia."

The citizen organization asked the academic world to “evaluate the impacts of these blooms on ecosystems and regional marine biodiversity, especially corals, wild fish, mollusks and crustaceans, on which coastal communities depend, and also invited national consumers, international organizations, and the social and citizen movement to pressure the government and industry, to stop the destructive geographic and productive expansion of the mega salmon industry, using the boycott tool on the purchase and consume of industrial chemical salmon from southern Chile."



Subscribe Today!