Great Salmon Escape Threatens to Taint Chile's Fish Farms

(Bloomberg) -- A massive salmon “spill” at a fish farm in southern Chile last week is once again tainting an industry that earned the country more than $4 billion last year.

About 900,000 salmon escaped from a Marine Harvest ASA farm during a storm on July 5, according to the Bergen, Norway-based company. The fish are not fit for consumption, Marine Harvest said in a press release. The company has recovered about 250,000 salmon and taken them to a nearby site, it said in a separate statement on July 9. About 680,000 fish are still missing and it is collaborating with the local Fisherman’s Federation to recover the remainder, Marine Harvest said.

Chile’s salmon industry was already under attack for the use of hundreds of tons of antibiotics every year and allegations that the dumping of dead fish in the past have fueled algae blooms that damage the local fishing industry. The escaped salmon are a non-native species to southern Chile and could harm other fish stocks, while their decomposition adds to ammonia in the water, potentially fueling a fresh outbreak of algae bloom, Greenpeace Chile Oceans Coordinator Estefania Gonzalez said.

“The scale of the event is such that it threatens the biodiversity of the region, and we’re very worried,” Gonzalez said. “The industry has expanded in a very aggressive manner in places that need to be dedicated to conservation -- it’s a chemical bomb.”

Marine Harvest said it would minimize the possible environmental impact of the escape, and try to recapture as many of the fish as possible. It is investigating how the incident could occur and will be inspecting all sites to ensure they are in accordance with its engineering standards.

Marine Harvest recorded 15 escape incidents worldwide in 2017 totaling 23,223 fish, according to its annual report.

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