Fear for Environmental Disaster After Massive Salmon Escape

PUERTO MONTT – After nearly 900,000 salmon escaped this weekend, environmental organizations in the region are raising the alarm over the possibly devastating impact. As salmon in the southern Pacific Ocean have no natural predators, they can destroy entire ecosystems, the organizations say. Blumar, the company responsible, has enlisted over 400 fishermen to help catch the fish.

Chilean salmon farming company Blumar announced on Monday, June 29, that over the weekend 16 cages had sunk during a heavy storm at sea, allowing nearly 900,000 salmon to escape. The workers present at the farm in the Los Lagos region were evacuated, but authorities and environmental organizations have demanded sanctions and investigations as they fear the impact of the escape on marine ecosystems could be huge.

Blumar’s manager Gerardo Balbontín said that the impact is being investigated. The company has enlisted over 400 fishermen from the region to help catch the escapees. If the company does not recover at least 10% percent of the escaped salmon within 30 days, local authorities must declare an environmental disaster. Sernapesca, the fishery authority, has warned people not to eat captured salmon as they were in the so-called fattening stage, meaning they were being treated with antimicrobial florfenicol.

The Chilean chapter of Greenpeace said that the number of escaped salmon is likely to be higher than stated by Blumar. According to the chapter’s Estefania Gonzalez, “The planting permit was for a total of 1,009,474 salmon and during the storm practically all the cages sunk, so we are talking about at least 1 million escaped salmon.”

According to Greenpeace, the situation at Blumar’s farm is indicative of the entire salmon industry in Chile. “The industry systematically falsifies the data on plantings and mortalities. …. The fishery authorities have authorized areas supposedly suitable for aquaculture, which in reality are not suitable, and the continuing environmental disasters demonstrate this.” Several years ago, Blumar made the news after it dumped large amounts of dead salmon into the ocean after they died from unknown bacteria.

Impact of Salmon Escape

Apart from environmental organizations, the indigenous communities of the Walaywe territory also expressed concerns. The Blumar farm borders a marine area with exclusive fishing rights for the community. The Walaywe said they fear an impact on their livelihood. “What generates the greatest uncertainty is to know that will be this tremendous damage to the ecosystem and the ocean.”

As salmon were artificially introduced into the southern Pacific Ocean, they have no natural predators. Salmon are carnivorous animals and the huge outbreak at the Blumar farm could endanger populations of native species, experts warn. Earlier studies on escaped salmon showed they had remains of native species in their stomachs.

In 2018, over 250,000 salmon escaped from a farm in the American state of Washington. Washington then decided to close down the industry by 2025 to avoid further environmental damage. Chile is unlikely to take similar steps, as the country is currently the number one salmon exporter in the world. However, environmental organizations urge authorities to be more careful when giving permits for concessions, as in certain parts of the Chilean oceans weather conditions could cause such escapes to happen again.

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