A study highly critical of Chile’s burgeoning salmon and trout export business had industry leaders upset even before its official unveiling in Santiago Tuesday, 29 August.

Written by the Santiago-based environmental think tank TERRAM, the “The Inefficiency of Chilean Salmon Farming” charges that Chile’s salmon industry is contaminating Chile’s coastal waters and inland lakes with its excessive reliance on antibiotics and has done little to advance the interests of the residents in southern Chile who provide the industry’s workforce.

Terram director Marcel Claude, a former Central Bank economist and co-editor of the study, says the industry’s cocky behaviour will most likely lead to an industry-wide “bust” unless preventive action is taken soon.

This amounts to heresy for Chile’s salmon and trout farmers, who this year, their best year ever, expect to export more than US$1 billion in fresh salmon and trout products to markets primarily in Japan, North America and Europe.

Industry projections show exports reaching the US$3 billion mark, or 500,000 tons, within this decade, far outstripping Norway, currently the world’s leader in fresh salmon and trout exports.

Until the Terram study, the only brake on the industry’s continued dynamic growth was – according to salmon export association leader Smiljan Radic – government bureaucrats who take too much time in awarding concessions for new salmon farm operations.

The Terram study, however, calls for an immediate halt to concession granting until a thorough inventory of the industry’s alleged harm is made.

Radic was quick to criticize the Terram study – days before its official publication – saying accumulated environmental degradation to Chile’s lakes and coastal waters is attributable to farming and population centers, not the salmon industry.

Radic did, however, acknowledge that Terram’s charge that Chile’s industry uses 75 times more antibiotics in fresh salmon cultivation than does its Norwegian rival may have some merit.

“The industry is investing US$50 million this year to find alternatives to such heavy reliance on antibiotics,” he said.

Less generous was former salmon association head Felipe Cubillos, who termed the study’s criticism as “absurd” because the industry now employs 25,000 people directly and another 10,000 indirectly in a part of Chile which otherwise would be economically depressed.

Fishing Undersecretary Daniel Albarran acknowledged that some activities related to the salmon industry need to be improved, but said the industry is very beneficial to the country as a whole.

“There may be some negative factors in the salmon industry, but the benefits for the country and the southern region far outweigh the negative things, and the Terram study completely ignores these benefits,” Albarran said, who, before taking his position with the government, was the president of the Salmon and Trout Producers Association.