Overpopulation has driven us to overfishing has driven us to fish farming -all,
with no idea whatsoever of natural process and possible eventualities -a hard
way to learn: Up against the wall!
Jul 30th 2009 Economist Magazine
Chile's stricken salmon farms
A bankrupt industry faces reform
THIS time two years ago some 300m Atlantic salmon were being fattened in
farms off the coast of southern Chile. Now its sheltered bays contain just a
tenth of that number. Many fish have died of infectious salmon anaemia (ISA), a
virus, whereas others have been prematurely harvested for fear they would catch
it too. Coho salmon and trout, which Chile also produces, are not susceptible
to ISA. Even so, output of the country’s fish farms this year is expected to be
down by at least 40%. The industry faces a long road back to health.
This blow comes after 15 years of meteoric growth that saw
exports rise more than tenfold to $2.3 billion in 2007, turned Chile into the
world’s second-biggest salmon producer after Norway, and brought prosperity to
a far-flung area with few other jobs.
Salmon farms in Norway, Scotland and Canada have all suffered
ISA too. Even so, Chile seems to have been unprepared for the virus when it
turned up, apparently in imported salmon eggs. The farmers seem to have been
blinded by booming profits. The National Fisheries Service, the industry’s
regulator which is more used to policing catch quotas at sea, lacked both a
plan and the powers to deal with ISA. The resulting disaster has bankrupted the
industry, which had piled up $1.8 billion in bank debts by last December.
With over half of salmon farms now empty of fish, the
industry has the chance to restock and start again, says César Barros of
SalmonChile, the industry association. He reckons output will be back to its
2007 level within four years. It could take longer. Congress is, slowly,
debating a bill to regulate the industry more tightly. The fisheries service
will have to be strengthened. And the farms need working capital to restock.
The banks may not oblige, although they have renegotiated much of the debt.
The industry has also come up with a voluntary plan to reduce
the use of antibiotics to control disease—a practice which has harmed the image
of Chilean salmon in the United States. Hitherto, lower production costs
allowed Chilean salmon to compete in the United States against less distant
rivals. The reforms might erode that advantage—but perhaps not if they work:
salmon farmers hope that fewer dead fish will compensate for the cost of
cleaning up their act.