On January 11, 2023, after four years in Congress, the Chilean Senate approved a bill to prevent and punish salmon escapes. The new regulation, which aims to protect the marine ecosystem, also sets new standards of transparency and publicity in the sector’s information, in terms of matters sometimes as sensitive as the use of antibiotics, antiparasitics, mortalities, or production. Although the required period for implementing the investments and operational changes is short, the Chilean salmon industry values this new law on fish escapes positively.
The ultimate goal of all involved is for aquaculture in Chile to become increasingly sustainable, something that will further open its market to both exports and investment.
Step forward for marine ecosystem protection
When WeAreAquaculture contacted several members of the salmon industry in Chile to ask them for their assessment of the new law to prevent and sanction salmon escapes, the most repeated word was “positive”.
Designed above all to protect the environment, the law will have requirements for the sector, but it also clarifies some previous legal loopholes, reconciles and values the collaboration between fish farmers and artisanal fishermen, and places Chile definitively on the path to sustainability, a way the country’s main producers have been marking for some time, but which will now be common to all.
This was stated by Chile’s Undersecretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Julio Salas. “This bill is a great step forward for the protection of the marine ecosystem as it allows preventing farmed salmon from preying and transmitting pathogens to wild species, also protecting the activity of artisanal fishing”, he said.
“Before, it was believed that salmon escapes were a private problem, but it is a problem that can have a direct impact on the environment and the surrounding communities, and with these regulations, a path towards a more sustainable, safe, and transparent activity is being traced”, he added.
New transparency and publicity standards
Although the name of the new law seems to be focused just on preventing and sanctioning salmon escapes, it also includes measures on transparency and safety standards that are expected to bring important changes to the sector. After the approval of the new bill, at the end of each production cycle, Sernapesca (National Fishery and Aquaculture Service, in its Spanish acronym) will have to publish information on the amount and type of antibiotics and antiparasitics used, as well as the associated biomass, mortality, and harvest. All this information should be disaggregated by company and farm.
In conversation with WeAreAquaculture, David Zaviezo, partner of Certes, a law firm specializing in aquaculture regulations compliance, reminds us that in Chile, the use of antibiotics is already regulated and supervised by the authorities. Even so, he thinks this new rule “is an advance and will encourage companies to be even stricter in their sanitary management”, although, he points out, there is also a risk. “The obvious risk is that this information would be used to undermine the industry’s competitiveness”, he says. However, he also hopes this detailed information will be used to implement new public policies.
SalmonChile, the association uniting the main producing and supplying companies of the industry, is also satisfied with the measure. “This new regulation improves aspects of transparency and access to information on the use of antibiotics, an issue in which our member companies have already shown significant progress by signing, in 2018, a commitment with the international NGO Monterey Bay Aquarium to reduce their use by 50% by 2025”, says its president, Arturo Clément.
“As SalmonChile, transparency has long been one of the pillars that move us as a productive sector, where through our Sustainability Reports we have made salmon escapes and relevant information related to the companies that are part of the guild available to the public”, he adds.
Preventing and sanctioning salmon escapes
As pointed out by SalmonChile, this transparency on information will also be transferred to the case of fish escapes. According to the new regulation, Sernapesca must also publish the number of escaped fish as soon as it is informed by the owner of the affected farm. It also eliminates the presumption of environmental damage in the event of an escape and establishes that, if it occurs, it will be sanctioned regardless of whether or not there was intention or carelessness on the part of the perpetrator. The only exception considered is if the leak is due to force majeure.
In economic terms, the sanction imposed will correspond to the harvest value of the escaped specimens that are not recaptured, but, in addition, the site’s suspension of operations will be decreed for a period of 1 to 4 years, according to the criteria of the authority, which will take into account, among other things, whether there have been previous escapes. The recapture period will be 30 days, extendable for an additional 30 days, and artisanal fishermen may be hired for this task.
Again, SalmonChile asses these measures positively. “We value several aspects of the recently approved law”, says Arturo Clément, “as it focuses adequately on the need to prevent and sanction salmon escapes, as well as having a strong preventive character by sanctioning non-compliance with adequate technical designs of the cages”.
Manuel Arriagada, Salmon Division Director of Camanchaca, is also satisfied with the measures and asses the fact that the sanctions are linked to the value of the non-recaptured harvest. “It seems to us a proportional way of dealing with the consequences of escapes”, he claims. “Our position is that, while there are exceptions for larger catastrophes, many of the escapes should be avoidable and companies need to be held accountable”.
Sustainable salmon farming, the great objective
Camanchaca’s Salmon Division Director is right. This project will require the producing companies to make an even greater effort in safety measures for the cultivation and anchoring structures. Each farm will need to have appropriate safety conditions according to the geographic and oceanographic characteristics of the concession area, and the project increases the penalties for non-compliance.
In addition, if it is detected that a site does not have the safety conditions of the structures, it will not be able to transfer the smolt, and if it has fish, it will have to remove them within 2 months, unless a certifier of structures certifies them.
Arriagada is, again, satisfied. “It has a preventive character that contributes to raising the safety standards with which the salmon farming industry operates in its farming centers. It provides a short but realistic timeframe for implementing investments and operational changes in the facilities, all of which means high levels of safety”, he says.
“This new law and norm of structures, that raises the standards for the anchoring and the firmness of the cages, are good advances to have sustainable salmon farming, which is our great objective”, concludes Camanchaca’s Salmon Division Director.
New norms to solve old problems
Everything seen so far refers to salmon escapes that fall under the producers’ responsibility, but there is another problem that Chile has been facing for some time, the thefts of fish from the farms. To fight them, the new law explicitly establishes the crime of breaking nets and stealing fish, as well as transporting and marketing them. SalmonChile values this sanction for “intentional damage to farming sites” as “another important point” within the law.
Manuel Arriagada goes further and explains to WeAreAquaculture why this is so important. “We consider equally satisfactory the incorporation of sanctions for those who commit crimes of fish theft in the culture centers because these are often associated with intentional escapes caused by criminals and this happens despite the fact that the companies have their facilities in full compliance with the required safety regulations”, he says.
Finally, the new law also regulates an old pending issue, the relationship between the owners of farming centers and artisanal fishermen, who can now be hired to recapture fish that have escaped from the farms. As the lawyer David Zaviezo, partner of Certes, points out, these fishermen are “those who know the sectors, the fishing grounds, have the necessary gear and implements for the recapture tasks”.
There have already been cases in which they have participated in these recapture tasks. For this reason, Zaviezo considers the measure to be very positive, an opinion shared by SalmonChile, which emphasizes that the new regulation “allows better coordination with artisanal fishing in the implementation of contingency plans in the face of these events”.