By Yojaira Paternina Cordoba*
Twelve Chilean salmon farming companies have been impacted by algal blooms over the past month.
As part of the complex situation that has resulted from a widespread bloom of algae across the salmon farming region of Los Lagos, the National Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture, José Miguel Burgos, was in the field during the first week of March carrying out inspections of fishing vessels, fish meal plants and farms in order to monitor and supervise the actions being carried out by salmon-related businesses since the beginning of the month. Meanwhile, mortality had continued to increase significantly since February.
At that time, Burgos confirmed that up to 29 culture facilities had been affected, with mortalities amounting to 13,092,000 fish, equivalent to a biomass of roughly 26,200 tons. To date, losses have been reported for twelve companies, including AquaChile, Blumar, Camanchaca, Austral salmon, Marine Harvest, Australis Mar, Salmones Humboldt, Marine Farm, Cermaq, Snowdrifts, Caleta Bay and Salmones Aysen. The most affected areas include the northern part of the Los Lagos region and some hot-spots in the area of Chiloe.
Burgos highlighted the efforts being carried out by several of the companies involved to remove the cages of dead fish at appropriate times. This was important, he said, “in order to prevent a health emergency.” He added that a number of vessels had been brought into service “so as to increase the extraction capacity and for processing mortalities.” Similarly, Sernapesca has three of its own vessels which, together with the support of the maritime authority, would be “monitoring so that contingency plans are developed in accordance with the law.” The Director went on to explain that in the case of those mortalities whose advanced level of decomposition does not allow for reduction to fish meal, ocean disposal by the Navy 60 miles out to sea would be considered to avoid any risk to human health, as stipulated in the London Protocol governing international disposal of waste at sea.
“We will do everything possible so that this does not happen, and oversight is important to assure we have no alternative prior to proceeding to ocean disposal. It must be remembered that Chile is a member of the London Protocol, which allows this possibility under strict conditions, but it must be absolutely justified,” he said.
In early March, the National Office of Fisheries and Aquaculture issued two resolutions of force majeure with the objective of providing facilities to expedite the process associated with the movement of live fish from the affected region to other areas with better conditions and also to authorize requests for anticipated harvests. Authorities explained that the mortalities were the result of asphyxiation from oxygen depletions caused by the algae blooms, rising water temperatures and lack of wind and rain associated with the El Nino climate event.
By Saturday, March 5, according to information provided by impacted companies, the loss estimates had risen to about 20 million fish, equivalent to 85,000 tons of Atlantic salmon. In Coho salmon species, meanwhile, losses of 4,500 tons have been reported. Had these fish survived and been harvested at normal marketing weights they would have yielded almost 90,000 tons, and most of them would have been harvested during the second half of 2016 and the first quarter of 2017.
Yojaira Paternina Cordoba has a degree in Animal Husbandry from the National University of Colombia. She currently manages production, technical and marketing activities at Piscicola del Valle, S.A., specializing in production of red tilapia (Oreochromis sp.) and the white cachama (Piaractus brachypomus).