Documentary raises the alarm about salmon farming expansion to Chile’s Magallanes region

Photo: Daniel CasadoPhoto: Daniel Casado
By Tomás Moggia
For some years now, the Chilean salmon industry, the second-largest producer worldwide, has coveted the Magallanes region. To a large extent, it’s the viral, bacterial and parasitic diseases generated by the industry itself in southern Chile’s Los Lagos and Aysén regions which forced them to search for new horizons for their salmon farms. At first, the long distance between Magallanes and the rest of the country was seen as an obstacle, today it’s become an advantage.
The intricate Magallanes coast and its colder waters offer unparalleled conditions for salmon farming. The aquaculture companies with a presence in this region have not had – so far – the big sanitary problems experienced in northern Chilean Patagonia, like outbreaks of dreaded diseases such as Piscirickettsiosis (SRS) or repeated sea lice infestations. Such conditions have turned the region into a magnet for new salmon farms.  According to statistics from the Magallanes Salmon and Trout Producers Association, in 2016, salmon production in the region reached 68,000 tons, and in 2023 it is projected to rise to 140,000 tons.
Still, everything seems to indicate that the critical health and environmental issues plaguing other parts of the world is also slowly arriving here, too, thereby putting at risk some of the most pristine seas left on the planet and part of Cape Horn World Biosphere Reserve. For example, an audit of Chile’s fisheries and aquaculture ministry showed that, about 53 percent of the salmon farms operating in the region between 2013 and 2015 reported anaerobic conditions, which means the waters at their sites lacked sufficient oxygen to support marine life. Moreover, a 2018 study by the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) found that among the “principal damages” currently caused by the salmon farms in Magallanes are “contamination of the seabed from large amounts of fish feces, excess chemical waste, and the over-saturation of waters with fish, all of which create oxygen-free dead zones where marine life cannot survive.”
Its those kind of findings in Magallanes which are precisely the great fear of Ramon Navarro. The world-renowned surfer from Chile has especially close ties with Carelmapu, a peaceful town on the coast of the Los Lagos region near Puerto Montt. It was there Navarro spent part of his youth accompanying his father, a small fisherman, and witnessed with his own eyes the serious socio-environmental damage generated by the Chilean salmon farming industry. With the support of the Patagonia company, Navarro decided to take action through a video documentary project that reveals the alarming situation today as the industry expands to the southernmost reaches of the Patagonia region.
 Ramon Navarro at a salmon farm in southern Chile. Photo: Daniel CasadoRamon Navarro at a salmon farm in southern Chile. Photo: Daniel Casado
"In Chiloé, all the waters have already collapsed because of the intervention of the salmon farms. In 2016, a microalgae bloom impacted not only the salmon industry, but also shellfish, which affected the entire local community, both their sources or work and the environment. Because of the 2016 crisis, the industry lost 40 tons of salmon, and about 9 tons of dead salmon were dumped at sea that caused an enormous environmental impact. If this can happen in Chiloé, then why can’t it happen further south where other salmon farms are installing themselves,” says Navarro.
"Do we really have to engage in this tremendous process of fishing for anchovies and sardines, turning them into fishmeal, giving it to the salmon, contaminating the fjords of Patagonia, then shipping it by plane to the United States so that someone eats it?", asks Liesbeth Van der Meer, vice president of Oceana Chile.
Navarro’s documentary "Estado Salmonero" (Salmon State) presents a history of abuses in the Chilean sea, the overuse of antibiotics in the production of salmon, and the impact that the industry has generated on the environment, wildlife, fishermen and human life. The film will premiere on Monday, May 27, at 8 p.m., at the Teatro San Ginés in Santiago, and then will be exhibited in different regions of the country, touring various cities from Iquique to Puerto Williams.
For more info on the film, and tour dates and locations, click here. Below, the trailer for the film. 

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