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This article presents a brief summary of Chile's fisheries and aquaculture sectors. It also addresses the main institutions and guilds since the time when there were no regulations until now, where overfishing has lead to the need for regulations through closed fishing seasons, quotas and maritime delimitations.

This is virtually happening worldwide in an attempt to protect hydrobiological resources and to set up the basis for their sustainability. In order to do so, institutions have been established to regulate and promote rational fishing operations.

In this article, the evolution of fish landings is introduced, taking into account the registered figures for catching and harvesting for species of fish, molluscs, crustaceans, etc. Those figures come from the main three segments in the fisheries industry: industrial, artisanal and aquaculture.

In addition, changes in the use of landed fish are shown. In the last few decades, the increase in fish exports was mainly driven by aquaculture development, which has also modified the kind of product delivered to the foreign market.

Brief review of fisheries industry

In the historical review about the fisheries industry in Chile, by Hernan Godoy from Sociology Institute at Pontificia Universidad Católica University (Chile), it is noted that English people caught whales and other species along the Chilean coast since the 18th century. North Americans joined them in such an activity by the beginning of the 19th century.

At that time, mostly foreigners were making profit from hydrobiological resources in the Chilean sea, benefiting the economy in their native countries.

In 1892, the Chilean government ordered a ban on catching sea lions and otters, as these species were almost on the edge of extinction after foreigners were catching them for years.

In addition, by the end of 19th century, several experts gave some recommendations on looking after the marine resources. It was urged to implement a regulation which was appropriate for the different areas in the country in order to prevent the extinction of several species. In the meantime, this regulation would try to promote fishing operations and fish consumption, as there was no tradition of having this product in the Chilean diet.

Adequate government protections along with building awareness in population were needed. For instance, some measures were surveillance in the dynamite usage or fishing bans during the spawning season. A special recommendation was made about creating a police body specialised on controlling fisheries systems and closed seasons. Thus, by the end of 19th century, the General Management of the Navy started several actions such as ensuring the compliance of closed seasons or permanently controlling some species. This set the grounds to establish a fisheries law and the necessary elements to found the first Fish College in Chile.

A significant role was played by Corfo (in Spanish, acronym which stands for Corporation for Production Development). It tried to promote industrial and artisanal fisheries since it was founded in 1940's and it was relieved on this task in 1964 by the Institute of Fisheries Promotion (from Spanish, IFOP). This is a private and non-lucrative corporation whose public role consists of supporting the sustainable development of the fisheries and aquaculture industries in the country.

Until 1976, the Ministry of Agriculture was responsible for the fisheries industry through the Division for Fisheries Protection in the Agriculture and Livestock Service (in Spanish, SAG).

In 1976, the Ministry of Economics became responsible for this industry. The Vice-Secretariat for Fisheries (in Spanish, Subpesca) was founded. It was followed by the foundation of the National Fisheries Service (in Spanish, Sernapesca) in 1978. Finally, both bodies added the word “aquaculture” to their official names.

Subpesca, based in Valparaíso, aimed to “regulate and administrate fisheries and aquaculture activities by the use of policies, rules and administrative measures which are supported by technical scientific reports as well as social and economic variations. Its approach is participatory and territorial in order to sustainably develop the national fisheries and aquaculture operations.”

On the other hand, Sernapesca, also based in Valparaíso, is aimed to “regulate the right compliance of fisheries and aquaculture rules, to provide with services that ease their application and to perform an efficient health management in order to help in achieving sustainability within the industry and protection for the hydrobiological resources and their environment.”

Among Sernapesca’s functions, we can find: administrating fisheries and aquaculture records, processing of landing and harvesting information along with making statistics about fisheries and aquaculture industry, including foreign trade.

An important change happened in January, 2013, when the Fisheries and Aquaculture Law was modified. The changes introduced by this modification were aimed to achieve sustainability and to recover fishing grounds.

Along the years, private fishing players have gathered in several guilds:

• Sonapesca (in Spanish, National Society for Fisheries). Its members are ship-owner companies and fisheries companies from different fish processing segments (frozen products, canned products, marinated and smoked products, fish meals and oils, etc.).
• Another important player within the fisheries industry is artisanal fishermen. These individuals are registered as artisanal fishermen, with or without a ship, which can have a maximum of 18m length and 80 m3 hold. It could also be a legal entity formed by individuals who own an artisanal ship. Extractive fishing divers, shore harvesters and algae harvesters are also included under artisanal fishermen.
• Artisanal fishermen are grouped in several associations, such as the National Confederation of Artisanal Fishermen in Chile (from Spanish, Conapach) and the National Alliance of Artisanal Fishermen Federations (from Spanish, Confepach), which groups 14 associations. Another important organisation is the National Council for the Protection of the Fisheries Heritage (from Spanish, Condepp).

The third sub-segment within this industry is aquaculture, which is increasingly more important. As it happens worldwide, Chile observed a quick growth in aquaculture since the 80’s. This growth was interrupted by the damages to the salmon cultures in the Atlantic due to the occurrence of the Infectious Salmon Anaemia virus at the end of last decade. Nowadays, those cultures are recovered and they are getting back on track to an upwards growth trend, transforming this segment into a high value business for Chile.

Aquaculture also has its own guild association such as the Chilean Salmon Industry Association (from Spanish, SalmonChile), which gathers several producing companies, or the Coho Salmon and Trout Producers Association (from Spanish, Acotruch), which was recently set up in order to obtain a different health regulation for these fish species in comparison to the Atlantic Salmon health standard, among other aims.


Since the beginning of the 80's, growth in world aquaculture has been high: one of the fastest growths in the food-producing segment. Nowadays, more than 330 aquatic species are grown in the world, responding to the low marine population of some species, according to FAO data.

The national aquaculture segment observed the same trend, having a constant growth during that time. There were some periods where growth slowed down, for instance, 2008 and 2010, due to the ISA virus crisis. Afterwards, the industry got back on track.

In Chile, there are two main divisions in aquaculture: fish and molluscs. In the fish division, harvest increases from slightly more than 50,000 tons in the 80's to almost 800,000 tons last year. Molluscs grew at similar speed since the 80's: they overpassed 250,000 tons in the last few years.

The main fish species in aquaculture are Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), followed by Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Pacific Salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) and Coho Samon (Oncorhynchus kisutch).

In a similar way to fish species, molluscs cultured in fish farming facilities grew significantly since 1990. Mussels account for 90 per cent within mollusc farming.


In the last few decades, huge changes took place in the domestic fisheries industry, which mainly reflected changes happening worldwide, and fish populations decreased either due to overfishing or due to conditions affecting sea temperature and sea currents.

All countries should have protected in a greater extend their fisheries resources in order to prevent the current depleted scene for many species. That is one of the main reasons behind modifying the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Law: adjusting regulation to the current hydrobiological resources status as well as adjusting it to the fish and mollusc cultures. The main approach in this modification is an adjustment towards sustainability for hydrobiological resources.

Nowadays, the fisheries industry has observed a drop in fish landings to slightly over one million tons. This drop followed a continued growth experienced from the 50's and 60's to mid-90's, when fish landing were up to a maximum of seven million tons. On the other hand, artisanal fishing has gradually been growing, reaching a similar production rate compared to industrial fisheries industry.

Similarly to what happened in other countries, aquaculture grew, especially in salmonid farming, accounting for almost 30 per cent of total fish landing.

Following changes in accountability for the three segments (industrial fishing, artisanal fishing and aquaculture), the use of fish landed has also observed some changes, such as the low percentage aimed to process fish oils and meals.

Additionally, the growth in exports changed the usage of total fish landings along with food-related reasons which allow increasing the value of products that traditionally were waste products, such as fish oils.

There is still a lot of work to do in order to increase fish and mollusc consumption in Chile as the population still consumes an amount below the world average for those products, which is 18kg per capita.

Finally, in the 80's fish products were exported for a $400 million value. Currently, this value is over $5,000 million. This made the aquaculture products become a significant segment in foreign trade.

Further Reading

You can view the full report (in Spanish) by clicking here.

March 2014