Salmon Industry, Chiloé Archipelago.

When you speak of Chiloe today, you need to talk about the salmon farming industry in the Chiloe sea, to the east of the archipelago. The salmon industry began its growth and expansion in this zone in the 80’s, becoming the main economic activity of the Los Lagos region in the 90’s and first decade of the 21st century.  The salmon farming in this zone positioned the Chilean salmon industry as the second largest in the world after Norway.

The “Chilean salmon model” is currently being questioned everywhere. The salmon industry is now facing a major environmental crisis. Salmon died en masse in February and March 2016 because of harmful algal bloom (HAB) or red tides. The organic matter of caged salmon released into the marine environment and nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen contributed to the anoxic conditions[1] of the aquatic environment of salmon farms and to the enrichment of sea nutrients and marine bottoms, which cause eutrophication.

This constant run-off of nutrients into the marine environment and weather in the form of high solar radiation and little wind created the right conditions for harmful algal bloom and red tides along an unusually long stretch of coast.  For months, fishermen and shell fish divers in the entire Los Lagos region, fjords and Pacific Ocean were left bereft of a source of income and one of the main local sources of food.  They held protests for weeks, blockading highways and ports, mainly in Chiloe and Llanquihue, demanding dignified economic solutions and that those responsible for the environmental damage be held accountable, which had been caused—in their opinion—by the salmon industry because part of the salmon killed by the algal bloom had been cast into the sea. They also demanded accountability for the four decades of eutrophication in the Chiloe sea.

Currently, with the support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Geute works together with the Terram Foundation in a project whose objectives are to map the situation of the Chilean salmon industry and its projections in order to: detect health and environmental breaches of the industry in Los Lagos region, particularly in Chiloé; contribute to curb the expansion of the industry to other areas of the country; actively promote the use of regulatory compliance; and raise health and environmental standards of the industry.

Written with the contribution of Álvaro Montaña Soto
Geographer – CECPAN