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Chilean Salmon Escapes: Oceana Size Up the Problem

Salmonids Welfare Environment +5 more

CHILE - Expressing its concern, Oceana recently requested information from the Chilean Government regarding the size and health implications of salmon escapes in the Los Lagos region.

In a letter forwarded to the National Fisheries Service (Servicio Nacional de Pesca, SERNAPESCA), Oceana, the international marine conservation organization, formally requested the government to release information about a massive salmon escape that recently took place from the facilities of Mainstream, a local salmon aquaculture company. This escape took place in the Chidguapi, commune of the Calbuco, Los Lagos region.

Mainstream blamed the event on strong wind and waves. Up until now, SERNAPESCA estimated that 240,000 fish had escaped the company’s facilities; however, a final figure is still unavailable to the public.

"Their escape into the wild results in severe impacts on local marine ecosystems and other fish species"
Alex Muñoz, Oceana’s Vice President for their South American office.

Considering the seriousness of this event, Oceana formally requested SERNAPESCA’s regional and national officers to release all the information available regarding the official number of escaped salmon. Oceana also requested information about the growth stage of the escaped fish, their health condition, and whether they are infected with the ISA virus or other health conditions.

Should SERNAPESCA be aware that the fish are infected, Oceana included a request for the specific treatments administered for these conditions along with the contingency plan implemented by the company and the government during the incident. This request was made under the Right to Access Public Information as honored by Chile’s Political Constitution, other Chilean laws and various international human rights treaties ratified by the Chilean government.

“Salmon escapes are one of the most critical issues related to salmon farming. Since Salmon are introduced species, their escape into the wild results in severe impacts on local marine ecosystems and other fish species,” stated Alex Muñoz, Oceana’s Vice President for their South American office. He further added, “We have requested the government to release all information it has about the actual size of this event and the health condition of escaped fish. It wouldn’t be surprising if these fish were infected with the ISA virus or other diseases that typically exist in salmon farms”.

Salmon are introduced species in Chile and their free movement in the wild marine ecosystem has already resulted in several environmental problems. Many scientific studies have documented predatory behavior on native species; crossbreeding with native fish and the spreading of disease. Additionally, many of the native species impacted by escaped salmon are valuable resources for artisan fishermen, which results in economic losses for this industry.

Oceana believes that regulations should be strengthened given high salmon escape figures prevailing in Chile. Today’s regulations, which merely require salmon farms to have a contingency plan for escapes, have proven to be ineffective for preventing future accidents and addressing areas that have already been impacted by this environmental problem.

“It is of utmost importance to put in place a regulation for salmon escapes that compels companies to prevent, report and mitigate such events. Further, sanctions should be put in place when escapes are intentional or neglectful”, stressed Muñoz.