Chile fails to advance towards adequate oversight of the salmon industry
Foto: Luiza Braun en Unsplash.
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28 September 2020
An administrative summary carried out by Sernapesca investigating serious irregularities in salmon farming concessions ended up absolving the officials involved of all charges, without valid arguments.
The results of the audits of Chile’s Subsecretariat of Fishing and Aquaculture (Subpesca) and the National Service of Fishing and Aquaculture (Sernapesca), carried out in 2016 by the Comptroller General's Office, showed serious irregularities in salmon farming concessions. This led to Sernapesca undertaking an internal administrative investigation to establish the facts and assign responsibility for those irregularities. However, the officials who were the subject of the investigation were absolved of all charges without sufficient evidence.
The audits identified that a significant number of the concessions were operating in anaerobic conditions (generating a lack or absence of oxygen). They also found that concession holders (at least 100) took samples at alternate sites so as to demonstrate the presence of aerobic conditions. Thirty-one percent of the centers reviewed had operated outside of their authorized concession area.Also, Sernapesca did not confirm that the concessions had not expired for failing to starting operations one full year after their material delivery.
Despite the seriousness of the fact that a significant percentage of the concessions are creating anaerobic conditions—under which marine life cannot survive—the investigation did not address this reality.
Without any justification, the officials called to answer for this lack of oversight simply refused to accept any responsibility. To mention just a few examples: they excused displaced concessions citing a tolerance range for displacement that contradicts the law, lacks scientific basis, and is often violated; they excused themselves from taking samples at different sites on the grounds that the concessions were displaced; and, to explain the lack of declarations for expired concessions, they argued that there are no legal or regulatory provisions that order Sernapesca to officially confirm the expiration of a concession. Such statements cannot be used as an excuse to allow companies to continue maintaining their concessions when they have legally expired.
Based on the process described, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), the NGO FIMA, and Greenpeace Chile consider that, despite the declared intent of the authorities, there are still serious problems with the control and government oversight of salmon farming in Chile, and the adequate curbing of its expansion.
The generation of anaerobic conditions, which are occurring in many of the salmon farming concessions, is a very serious and often irreversible environmental problem. Places without oxygen quickly become true underwater deserts where life cannot thrive. Awareness of this problem, however, is not common because it occurs underwater, where it cannot be seen. The agencies in charge of regulating and overseeing the industry have a fundamental job to carry out.
The Comptroller's Office took an important step by carrying out audits of Subpesca and Sernapesca. Now we need the agencies to confront the weaknesses that have been revealed and to rise to the very important task of monitoring and sanctioning the industry.
We urge the Comptroller General's Office to adequately follow up on the 2016 audits. It is clear that the control of the industry, as well as the imposition of sanctions when appropriate, is not working as it should and the seas of southern Chile cannot continue to be unprotected. It is urgent to move towards stopping the expansion of an industry that has proven to be incompatible with the health of marine ecosystems, and to implement the appropriate sanctions, derived from the expiration of concessions and environmental permits for those farms causing grave environmental impacts.