Greenpeace has said that it will file a criminal complaint with Chile’s Public Ministry after reviewing what the environmental NGO called “shocking images of dead salmon” in the Los Lagos region’s Comau Fjord.

Over the last month, harmful algae blooms in southern Chile’s Los Lagos and Aysén regions have wreaked havoc on the area’s salmon farms. According to a 14 April release from Chile’s National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca), which has insisted that it has strictly monitored the whole mortality handling process, approximately 5,703 metric tons (MT), or 95 percent of the dead fish have thus far been removed – 3,062 MT in the Los Lagos region and 2,641 MT in the Aysén region – with all the necessary authorizations issued for the prompt removal of the remaining 5 percent. The mortality corresponds to 3.7 percent of the total active biomass in affected areas, Sernapesca said.

However, in the removal of mortality, “the discharge of contaminated water without any type of treatment directly into the sea is unacceptable, it is a crime,” Greenpeace Campaign Coordinator Estefanía González said. “This situation exceeds the maximum 96-hour time frame as stipulated under the law to remove mortalities from salmon farms. That is why Greenpeace is compiling all the information and will present a criminal complaint to the Public Ministry for a thorough investigation of this contamination. Marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them cannot continue to wait for ecosystems to continue to be affected with impunity.”

Greenpeace said the situation is “recurrent in the salmon industry… [with] marine ecosystems once again being used as industrial landfills by companies.” Specifically, González named salmon farmer Camanchaca and its farm at the Porcelain sector, “where you can witness the levels of putrefaction from dead salmon, and in the vacuuming process for withdrawal, they are dumped into the sea, outside the cages, where you can also see water contaminated with biological remains with blood, viscera, decomposing remains. This poses a huge danger to the ecosystem, especially given the high levels of harmful microalgae that has been in the fjord in the last few days.”

In a written statement to the market, Camanchaca recognized an exponential increase in harmful algae in the Comau fjord, where it has four grow-out farms. However, it said the occurrence was a natural phenomenon, unprecedented in Chile in the last 20 years, caused by exceptionally warm, dry weather conditions of the recent Southern Hemisphere summer. The company said that it understood “that there are people who may be alarmed by images of the mortality extraction process, which involves extracting fish from their environment with contact water, to the holds of ships that return that water and keep the fish. This does not introduce external liquids or return fish to the sea, and are the same systems as those used for fishing around the world.”

Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) lawyer Florencia Ortúzar said the disposal of more than 5,000 MT of mortality is causing environmental harm, noting the amount of dead salmon caused by the algae blooms would fill more than 400 garbage trucks.

“Closed fjord areas with little water exchange in times of climate change cannot support the amount of organic matter that salmon farms discharge into the sea,” she said in a Greenpeace release.

Camanchaca said it has mobilized all possible human and material resources – including deploying 18 vessels, some of which with refrigerated warehouses and large capacity – to rescue the surviving fish and remove the dead fish from the water, seeking to comply with the spirit and form of the protocols established by the authorities in Chile. The incident meant the loss of 1.5 million fish, or half of the salmon in the area. The dual processes of removing mortality while rescuing live fish and transporting them to safe areas are “huge and complex operations for a single company,” it noted.

“Despite the stress that this situation has caused in Salmones Camanchaca, we have a genuine commitment to the sustainable development of our activity, and we will respond decisively to all the improvements that result from this experience, once the work is completed this week. This cannot happen to us again,” the company said.

“The only responsible thing left to do is put a halt to this industry,” AIDA’s Ortúzar countered.

Photo courtesy of Alvaro Vidal/Greenpeace

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