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Fish Farming Lessons from Chile

CHILE - Later this year, federal regulators will vote on allowing commercial fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico. Before they decide, they should consider the cautionary tale of Chile's aquaculture industry.

A report on, says that the once-pristine coastal waters of that country's Gulf of Reloncavi are now seriously degraded by pollution from unchecked salmon farming.

Raised in closely packed pens the size of houses, farmed salmon became Chile's third-largest export industry, with much of it entering the United States. Then the fish started dying off by the millions from a viral plague called infectious salmon anemia. Not only have hundreds of fish farming workers lost their jobs, but wild fish stocks in the area have been decimated as well.

"All of these problems are related to an underlying lack of sanitary controls," says Dr. Felipe Cabello, a professor who has studied Chile's fishing industry.

Fish kept in such confining conditions become stressed and must be fed high doses of antibiotics. Both fish waste and excess food release parasites, drug-resistant diseases and contaminants into surrounding waters. Local fisherman near the farms have seen a sharp drop-off in wild-fish stocks and an unnatural appearance of their catch from the colorant used to make farmed salmon flesh appear healthy.

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