The Risks of the Salmon Industry’s Expansion in Chilean Patagonia


In Chile, the salmon industry has grown rapidly over the last 20 years, often at the expense of the environment, as has been made evident in the regions of Los Lagos and Aysén, where salmon farms have been firmly established.

In search of more pristine waters, the industry is now settling into the country’s last virgin coasts, in the region of Magallanes, in Southern Patagonia.

The expansion is taking place without scientific evidence or serious studies to establish the limits of production in terms of water capacity. This could have catastrophic consequences for local ecosystems, a fact that has sparked concern among environmental organizations.

The purpose of this report, written for AIDA by the biologist Héctor Kol, with the support of the Waitt Foundation, is to contribute to the understanding of the current and potential damages that the industrial production of salmon implies for Magallanes. With this, it also seeks to contribute to the effective protection of the aquatic-marine environment of Patagonia, through the use of existing legal tools.

The document presents a detailed analysis of the situation of salmon farms in Magallanes, responding to the following questions: How many exist? Where are they? How much do they produce and in what conditions do they do so?

The study includes the farms already authorized by the government and those whose permits are in process. These were divided by geographical sectors to facilitate the analysis. The information on each project includes a location map and estimates of the amount of waste left in the waters, a key aspect to determining their impact on marine life. In this way, the author illustrates the magnitude of the problem.

The report also contains basic information on the authorization process for this type of project and on the regulations that exist for the sector, as well as an annex with scientific and legal documents related to each project.

The analysis leads to several important conclusions, including the following:

  • Of the 261 projects analyzed, a little less than half have been authorized and the rest could receive their authorizations in the short- and medium- term. This demonstrates the rapid growth of the industry in the region and alerts to the need for constant monitoring, above all of the environmental and sanitary conditions in which they operate.
  • Of the authorized projects only 35 (equivalent to 25 percent of the total) are effectively in operation.
  • There exist, in a same geographic sector and without explanation, large differences in the production and quantity of waste that the government has authorized for different subsectors. This demonstrates the lack of a scientific evaluation that would guarantee the water’s capacity to safely receive the authorized amounts of waste.
  • More than half of the projects currently in operation have generated a total or partial lack of oxygen in the water, which gravely affects marine life. Even more serious is that at least nine of them are located in protected natural areas. This demonstrates that, before operating permits were authorized, adequate studies were not conducted to ensure that the capacity of the waters would not be exceeded by the quantity of fish authorized for breeding. It also means that projects are not subject to appropriate environmental impact assessments.
  • There is not environmental information available for all the authorized projects, which makes it impossible to determine with greater precision the potential damages that the salmon industry could cause in Magallanes.
  •  In short, the study concludes that neither the State nor the salmon companies have done enough to prevent the damages already caused by the industry in other regions of Chile, which may now be repeated in one of the country’s most pristine natural areas.

Consult and download the complete report (in Spanish)

MAP - Salmon farms by geographic area 

  1. Red icons and polygons: projects with authorized aquaculture concession, approved Technical Project and available environmental assessment (104 in total).
  2. White icons and red polygons: projects with authorized aquaculture concession and approved Technical Project, but without RCA or environmental information available (22 in total).
  3. Yellow icons and polygons: pending projects, without approved aquaculture concession, but with approved Technical Project (10 in total).
  4. Icons and green polygons: pending projects, without approved aquaculture concession and without approved Technical Project, but considered viable by the SUBPESCA (124 in total).

Héctor Kol