MAGALLANES- A report on the Kawésqar National Park and Reserve urges the Chilean government to prohibit salmon farming in the area. This biodiverse area is threatened environmentally and culturally by the impacts of salmon aquaculture. But outlawing the practice is complicated because Chile is a key salmon exporter.
An NGO focused on water issues in Kawésqar territory in collaboration with the National Geographic Pristine Oceans initiative has raised concerns about the continuous impacts of the salmon industry.
A recently published study draws on data collected during two expeditions. The first took place in February and March 2020 and involved filmmakers, scientists, and local Kawésqar and Yaghan indigenous leaders. Scuba diving and deep sea cameras allowed for unprecedented research into the underwater ecosystems.
A second expedition involving the NGO followed from July to September 2020. This research focused on ancestral knowledge from the Kawésqar indigenous communities.
Indigenous knowledge leads the way
While the environment of the national park has not been extensively studied due to its remote location, the indigenous people inhabiting the land have been collecting ecological information for centuries. The study considers environmental knowledge that has been passed down within Kawésqar communities, including the importance of the land-sea connection. Key recommendations include the implementation of a co-management system that is collaboratively designed with input from Kawésqar communities.
While national parks are well protected, reserves are still open to industrial activity. That’s a problem since the Kawésqar national park covers land, but the reserve covers the sea. Ending salmon farming is difficult since Chile is the second-largest exporter of farmed salmon in the world, which comprises the country’s third-largest export sector.
Atlantic salmon, the primary species farmed, are not native to Chile. They frequently escape and then compete with native species. This can ravage fish populations that are important for indigenous groups’ food supply.
The Chilean salmon industry also utilizes massive amounts of pesticides and antibiotics that are dumped into the salmon pens, from where they permeate into the water that’s not part of the farm. In addition, salmon waste products can contribute to harmful algal blooms, which kill fish on a massive scale.
Considering the economic and ecological impacts, salmon farming involves a constant trade-off between material growth and ecological value that’s not reflected in economic considerations.
Olivia Wolford recently received a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Maryland. She is passionate about issues related to conservation and climate justice.