Chile's Salmon Industry Sleeps With Fishes Tonight

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/19/2010 12:22:00 AM
It's been a long time since I've done an environmentally-related post so I'll take the opportunity to do so here. The FT is reporting that prices of salmon have shot through the roof as of late because of declining hauls from Chile. Previously a burgeoning industry in Chile, it's been hit hard by an outbreak of a lethal virus that's causing declines in fish stocks:
Salmon prices are jumping after a sharp decline in global supply following the collapse of the Chilean industry following an outbreak of a fish disease. Since the start of the year, wholesale prices for Norwegian-produced Atlantic salmon have risen 20.6 per cent, says Statistics Norway. That has extended a year-long rally in prices, which have risen 32.5 per cent to NKr37 (£4) a kilo. Industry analysts expect the surge to feed through to what people pay for salmon steaks and fillets.

Chile's output of Atlantic salmon has been hammered by the virus that causes infectious salmon anaemia, which emerged in 2007. The disease, which does not affect humans if such fish is consumed, kills off salmon by attacking their red blood cells.

"Chile, which was the second- biggest producer of salmon, has seen its output plunge more than 75 per cent in two years," said Aslak Berge at First Securities in Norway. "During peak production in 2008, Chile sold 403,000 tonnes, but we forecast a sales estimate of 90,000 tonnes this year..."

"We have never seen a year-on-year decline in global supply before and this is happening in a market where the willingness to pay is increasing," said Sjur Malm, an analyst at SEB Enskilda in Norway. "We estimate a global supply decline of 6 per cent year on year."
The culprit, it seems, are those environmental bugaboos of excessive use of chemicals and overconcentrated fish farms. The New York Times tracked the rise of infectious salmon anemia sometime ago that reduces red blood cell counts in salmon, often fatally:
A virus called infectious salmon anemia, or I.S.A., is killing millions of salmon destined for export to Japan, Europe and the United States. The spreading plague has sent shivers through Chile’s third-largest export industry, which has left local people embittered by laying off more than 1,000 workers.

It has also opened the companies to fresh charges from biologists and environmentalists who say that the breeding of salmon in crowded underwater pens is contaminating once-pristine waters and producing potentially unhealthy fish. Some say the industry is raising its fish in ways that court disaster, and producers are coming under new pressure to change their methods to preserve southern Chile’s cobalt blue waters for tourists and other marine life.

“All these problems are related to an underlying lack of sanitary controls,” said Dr. Felipe C. Cabello, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at New York Medical College in Valhalla that has studied Chile’s fishing industry. “Parasitic infections, viral infections, fungal infections are all disseminated when the fish are stressed and the centers are too close together.”
It appears the Chileans haven't changed their methods enough since the NYT article appeared in March of 2008 to stave off the current crisis. Last year, the Pew Charitable Trusts pulled documents out of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suggesting that the methods used by Chilean salmon farmers are indeed toxic and involve use of chemicals banned in America:
The Pew Environment Group recently acquired documents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealing that three Chilean salmon farming companies, including the two largest producers of farmed salmon, used a number of drugs not approved by the U.S. government. These chemicals include the antibiotics flumequine and oxolinic acid and the pesticide emamectin benzoate. The documents further show that the farmed salmon containing residues of unapproved chemicals were destined for the U.S. market.

In these reports, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the FDA declared that “if the drug is not listed in the approved drugs list… they [Chilean companies] are not allowed to use the drug to treat salmon destined to be distributed in the U.S., not even if they meet withdrawal periods and no tissue residue can be detected...”

The pesticide and antibiotic residues found are of concern due to their potential effects on human health and the environment. The pesticide emamectin benzoate, for example, is “very toxic to aquatic organisms” and “may cause long-term adverse effects in the environment,” according to the manufacturer’s safety data. The non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in fish destined for food production also raises concerns about possible antibiotic resistant bacterial infections in humans.
Final score: Mother Nature 1, Chilean Fish Farms 0. Together with Luca Brasi, Chile's salmon industry sleeps with the fishes tonight.