Farmed Salmon Output Is Making Waves Worldwide
from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
4/25/95 P-I Special Report A1, Page A-4
Manao, Chile – Salmon thrive in the waters of southern Chile because the ocean temperature rarely drops below 48 degrees or rises above 60. Greater seasonal extremes force down the salmon’s metabolism and reduce its growth rate, says Juan Carlos Rivera.
Rivera is an aquaculture engineer for SalmoAmerica, a Puerto Montt-based salmon and trout producer that is among the growing number of fish Farms and processors in southern Chile.
Fish farming barely existed in Chile 15 years ago. In 1986, Chile exported $5 million worth of farmed fish. In 1994, it exported 76,000 tons of steelhead trout and Atlantic, coho and king salmon worth $350 million, according to Rodrigo Infante, who heads the Association of Chilean Salmon and Trout Producers.
Although it still pales when compared with the Northwest’s wild salmon catch, Chile’s output of farmed salmon is making waves around the Pacific Rim, particularly in Asia.
Fishermen in Alaska, many of whom are based in Seattle, caught a record 433,000 tons of salmon last year, while farms in Washington state produced another 5,000 tons. (NonIndian Share Only).
But Pacific wild salmon runs are expected to shrink, so farmed salmon is rapidly becoming a more important source, and Chile is poised to be a major supplier.
Already, human-raised species account for 40 percent of worldwide salmon consumption.
"The farmed product has a significant impact on the world salmon market," says John Roos, vice president of the Seattle-based Pacific Seafood Processors Association, which represents the region’s largest wild-catch salmon processors.
Salmon farms in Chile mushroomed because the country lacked the traditional sport and commercial fishing industries that resisted the spread of fish farming in Washington and British Columbia.
Also, the country didn’t have the Northwest’s community opposition or environmental regulations to keep farms from locating on lakes, estuaries or offshore sites.
Chilean salmon farmers have some other advantages, according to Per Heggetund, president of AquaSeed Corp., a Seattle-based producer and exporter of salmon eggs.
Their location in the Southern Hemisphere adds six months to the growth cycle before the fish mature, so they can be harvested at an ideal time for the northern market, he says.
Further, their proximity to abundant South American anchovy runs gives them access to low-cost fish meal.
Finally, "Chilean labor costs, particularly in the southern part of the country, are only 65 percent of those in North America and Europe. Workers at SalmoAmerica earn an average income of about $250 per month", Rivera says.
To serve the North American market, the Chilean industry has developed a salmon air freight and distribution system out of Miami.
A growing number of Chilean producers are also beginning to manage their freight costs – which can be twice as high as those of producers in the United States – by using the same inexpensive skilled labor to make fillets and other processed items for the fresh market in North America and Asia.
The prolific growth of producers in Chile, Norway and Scotland has combined with record wild runs in Alaska to generate a glut of salmon on the world market, and that concerns farmers and fishermen in Washington.
"Chile is increasing production indiscriminately," says Pete Grange, executive director of the Washington Salmon Commission, "Everybody is trying to bring their costs down to stay in business."
But Infante of the Association of Chilean Salmon and Trout Producers says a recent joint advertising campaign by the world’s largest farmed-salmon producers is among the best ways to boost overall demand for salmon, which has grown only sluggishly despite the reported health benefits of eating fish.
"The way we see it," lnfante says, "we compete more with other sources of protein than with other countries."