Salmon farming destroys Chilean environment

This video says about itself:

Chile, the world’s second biggest exporter of salmon, is struggling with overcrowded farms and rampant disease.

The crisis is having a devastating effect on the country’s multi-billion dollar industry and on its workers.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman reports from Quellon in southern Chile.

From Science Daily:

Environmental scandal in Chile

23 June 2010 11:09 GMT

Until recently, the disastrous scale of the threat posed by salmon farms to the fauna and National Park of the Aysen region of southern Chile was entirely unknown. The unexpected discovery was made by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organisation and the University of Goettingen, who were studying acoustic communication among the native whales in the region. The researchers not only discovered that the salmon industry is rapidly spreading to the hitherto largely unspoiled south of the region; they also documented the previously unknown threat to the region’s native sea lions. The international environmental organisations have expressed their surprise at this accidental discovery. The Goettingen researchers report their observations in the ‘Correspondence’ section of the current edition of the journal Nature.

With an export volume in excess of two billion US dollars, Chile is one of the world’s main producers of farmed salmon. The aquaculture, which is carried out on a massive scale, is mainly concentrated on the ramified fjords of the province of Aysen in Patagonia. While parts of the province are classified as a National Park, the protection does not extend to the surrounding sea. The salmon farms, which are entirely legal from the government’s perspective, have, in part, devastating impacts on the region’s entire ecosystem – not least because Atlantic salmon is an alien species in Chile, introduces diseases and therefore poses an additional risk to already threatened native species. Moreover, the use of medication on the farms and the waste they produce also burden the ecosystem.

The ISA (infectious salmon anaemia) virus, which causes anaemia and death in salmon, has forced many aquaculture operators to close down their farms in northern Chile in recent years. ‘The farms, however, are now spreading further south,’ reports Heike Vester from the Norwegian research institute Ocean Sounds, who is currently completing her doctorate at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organisation and the University of Goettingen. Because the region’s ramified fjords are difficult to access from land, the full scale of the impact of this development only became clear to her when she was carrying out research from the water. Vester’s photographs document, among other things, the threat posed to the South American sea lion. The animals get caught in the protective nets surrounding the salmon farms when young and, even if they manage to free themselves, parts of the nets often remain stuck to the sea lions and suffocate them as they grow.

The salmon farms also incur other negative effects on the ecosystem: large volumes of excess feed for the farmed fish and their faeces can be seen floating in the water, and the crowded conditions under which the salmon are kept necessitate the use of medication and pesticides. Measurements taken by other participants in the Goettingen researcher’s expedition prove that no forms of life now exist in direct proximity to the farms. ‘The air there smells like bleach,’ says Vester.

Acoustic measurements carried out in the field by the biologist also reveal the existence of another invisible threat: the ships that supply the farms and the generators of the feeding machines generate constant noise. ‘This noise can drive the threatened marine mammals, for example blue, humpback and sei whales and Peale’s dolphins and Chilean dolphins, away and disrupt their communication in the ramified fjords and channels,’ explains Marc Timme from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organisation, who is co-supervising Heike Vester’s doctoral thesis.

The north of the province of Aysen, where many salmon farms were shut down and abandoned due to the virus, also presents a bleak picture. ‘The diseased fish were obviously not disposed of properly and, in some cases, simply sunk in the water in plastic bags,’ reports Vester. Her photographs show discarded, dead and partly eaten salmon. ‘It would appear that this is how the virus managed to enter the ecosystem,’ concludes the biologist. It is not possible to quantify the effects of this infestation on the native flora and fauna.

In their report published in the journal Nature, the Goettingen researchers suggest that the salmon industry, local fishermen and environmental protection organisations join forces in seeking a solution to this problem. A joint approach of this kind has already been tested in countries like Italy, Australia and the USA. The aim must be to ensure that, in addition to those of the salmon farms, the rights of the local fishermen and the environment are asserted. This is the only way that sustainable tourism can be established as a new sector with good prospects in the region.

The Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organisation in Goettingen researches complex systems from very wide-ranging areas in physics, information technology and biology. Heike Vester’s research project involves the study of the complex communication between social whales, such as pilot and killer whales. As part of her study, the biologist has collected and compared sound recordings and behavioural studies from northern Norway and southern Chile with a view to identifying variations in the sound patterns of the two geographically divided populations. The aim of the study is to gain a better understanding of the composition and structure of the sounds and their use. This could contribute to the identification of important steps in the evolution and development of the formation of sounds by these animals. Heike Vester has visited Chile every year since 2008 on the invitation of the Chilean Centre for Scientific Tourism to study how sustainable tourism could be developed there.

Good news: Chile says no to salmon farming off Tierra Del Fuego: here.

SANTIAGO, Nov 8, 2010 (IPS) – Over-exploitation of jack mackerel, the main commercial species of fish caught in Chile, has caused the decline of the Pacific ocean species and a crisis in the fishing industry. Scientists recommend halving the catch in 2011: here.

Genetically engineered salmon safe to eat, but a threat to wild stocks: An expert comments on potential FDA approval: here.

Scientists have discovered why fast-growing farmed salmon are three times more likely to be partially deaf than their wild relatives: here.

Grilling some fish for Labor Day? You might want to avoid these, the 12 most toxic fish (for us & the planet): here.

WWF calls on Chile’s newly established Ministry of Environment to advance fast on establishing new marine protected areas (MPAs) in the country’s waters to secure vital protection for valuable and threatened marine life, including the endangered blue whale: here.

Labridae eat parasites, used in salmon hatcheries: here.

Farmed sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and other fish frequently escape from sea cages out into the ocean. Researchers worry that escapees, like this sea bass found off the coast of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, could threaten wild ecosystems: here.

8 thoughts on “Salmon farming destroys Chilean environment

  1. Large-scale fish farm production offsets environmental gains, new Pew funded study claims

    by Staff


    Large-scale fish farm production offsets environmental gains, new Pew funded study claims

    Industrial-scale aquaculture production magnifies environmental degradation, according to the first global assessment of the effects of marine finfish aquaculture (e.g. salmon, cod, turbot and grouper) released today. This is true even when farming operations implement the best current marine fish farming practices.

    Dr. John Volpe and his team at the University of Victoria developed the Global Aquaculture Performance Index (GAPI), a system for measuring the environmental performance of fish farming. The project is supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program, which was established in 2004 by the Lenfest Foundation and is managed by the Pew Environment Group.

    “Scale is critical,” said Dr. Volpe, a marine ecologist. “Over time, the industry has made strides in reducing the environmental impact per ton of fish, but this does not give a complete picture. Large scale farming of salmon, for example, even under even the best current practices creates large scale problems.”

    The fish farming industry is an increasingly important source of seafood, especially as many wild fisheries are in decline. Yet farming of many marine fish species has been criticized as causing ecological damage. For instance, the researchers’ found that the relatively new marine finfish aquaculture sector in China and other Asian countries lags in environmental performance.

    Dr. Volpe added, “The fastest growing sector is Asia, where we found a troubling combination of poor environmental performance and rapidly increasing production.”

    Dr. Volpe and his team developed GAPI, which uses 10 different criteria to assess and score environmental impacts. Incorporating information such as the application of antibiotics and discharge of water pollutants, GAPI allows researchers to gauge which farmed species and countries of production have the best or worst environmental performance. The researchers examined the environmental impact of marine fish farming per ton of fish produced and the cumulative environmental impact for each country producing a major farmed species.

    “GAPI provides a valuable tool for developing environmentally responsible fish farming. Governments can use GAPI to inform policies and regulations to minimize the environmental footprint of fish farming. Farmers can use it to improve production practices. And buyers can use it to compare and select better, more environmentally friendly seafood options,” said Chris Mann, senior officer and director of the Pew Environment Group’s Aquaculture Standards Project, which collaborated on the work.

    For further information on GAPI, including a summary of the methodology and findings, visit

    The GAPI 2010 report released today is based on 2007 data, the most recent year for which data for all aquaculture indicators are available. GAPI analysis will be updated periodically as additional data becomes available. For additional information, updated research and analysis, (see the GAPI Web site).


  2. Pingback: Canadian salmon virus scandal | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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  4. Pingback: New national park in Chile | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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