In a report entitled Chile Food and Drink Report Q4 2009, Companies and Markets has identified the strengths and weaknesses of the country's salmon industry, as well as its future prospects.
Chile has 4,200 km (2,600 miles) of coastline and 30,000 km of canals, archipelagos and fjords. The country is situated in one of the five most productive marine areas in the world and in 2003 aquaculture became the country’s fourth-largest export sector. However, the sector has been rocked by scandal in the last year, with a widespread outbreak of infectious salmon anaemia virus (ISA) blamed on overcrowded conditions.
Salmon farming is one of Chile’s largest export industries and is fuelled by rising demand from Japan, Europe and the US. The Chilean salmon industry has grown eightfold since 1990, employing over 50,000 people and making up an important part of the economy. The majority of products are marketed fresh, chilled or frozen, but canned, dried, salted, smoked and dehydrated products are also of importance and over recent years, producers have invested significantly in order to be able to produce value-added products such as smoked salmon.
However, the industry has been criticised by biologists who say that fish pens are too close together and that overcrowded conditions are responsible for the rise in the rates of fish diseases. Even prior to the outbreak of ISA, Chilean farms were hit by a rash of non-viral illnesses related to unsanitary conditions, which has led to many farms needing to use a high level of antibiotics to keep fish healthy. A report by the Ministry of the Economy in July 2009 revealed that the industry used 325 tonnes of antibiotics in 2008, which was almost 350 times the amount used in Norway, Chile’s primary competitor in the farmed salmon sector.
The spread of ISA and the high use of antibiotics have damaged the reputation of Chilean salmon and in 2009 two of the largest US retailers, Safeway and Wal-Mart Stores, both announced that they would no longer be stocking salmon from the country. The industry consists of around 70 companies but Norway-based Marine Harvest, the world’s biggest producer of farm-raised salmon, controls around 20 per cent of all Chile’s salmon exports. A spokesman for Marine Harvest revealed in April 2008 that the firm recognised that Chilean fish pens were too close together and that the use of antibiotics was too high and also suggested the company would welcome tougher environmental regulations.
In December 2009, the government announced it would extend support to businesses that have been impacted by the ISA virus with Chile’s President, Michelle Bachelet, announcing that her administration would allocate US$120 million to finance guarantees that would make it easier for salmon farming companies to access bank loans. However, this support is set to be coupled with new laws, due to be unveiled in the second half of 2009, which will look to improve the conditions under which farms operate and prevent similar outbreaks in the future.
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