Chile’s environmental watchdog opens new overproduction case against Australis

The Chilean Environmental Protection Agency (SMA) has launched a new sanctions process against Australis Mar for exceeding approved production limits at one of its rearing centers – the seventh such action by the Environmental Agency against the salmon farming company.

Australis Mar is a division of Australis Seafoods based in Puerto Varas, Chile, which was acquired in 2018 by Chinese foodservice giant Joyvio, a subsidiary of Legend Holdings.

The latest research from SMA relates to Australis’ Punta Lobos center is located in the Kawésqar National Reserve in Chile’s southernmost Magallanes region – an area that has been the focus of national attention, including a documentary produced by National Geographic calling for the reserve to be declared a national park, a move that would effectively ban salmon production there. According to the latest documents filed in SMA’s National Environmental Control Information System, SNIFA, Sernapesca – the country’s fisheries and aquaculture service – found that the Punta Lobos center produced a total of 7,777 tons during the November 2017 to August 2019 production cycle (MT) of Atlantic salmon, exceeding the ecological limit of 4,320 tonnes by 80 percent or 3,457 tonnes.

SMA has six further sanction procedures currently pending against Australis Mar: one for alleged violations at a salmon farm in the Biobío region, two for violations at rearing centers in the Aysén region (Salas 5 and Costa) and three for alleged violations in the Magallanes region (Córdova 3 , Estero Retroceso and Morgan ). All three of Australis’ Magallanes farms involved in the sanctioning process are located within the Kawésqar National Reserve. The new case in Punta Lobos joins the cases of alleged overproduction at Australis’ Córdova 3, Morgan, Estero Retroceso and Costa farms.

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“Regarding the SMA notification of suspected failures at the Punta Lobos Agricultural Center in the Magallanes Region in relation to a production cycle started in 2017, the Company is reviewing the background information that the Authority has provided us to date in order to cooperate and provide any information required prepared to provide an accurate and timely compliance program proposal if the observed deviations are confirmed,” Australis said in a statement sent to SeafoodSource.

According to current Chilean salmon farming regulations, companies facing sanctions can join an improvement program that must include measures aimed at promoting satisfactory compliance with all environmental regulations. If the Chilean authorities approve the proposal and the company sticks to the plan for a certain period of time, the administrative sanction can be waived.

However, in the same accusatory document, SMA said it also found overproduction in the current cycle at Punta Lobos, which began in October 2021 and is expected to end in January 2023. In August 2022, SMA determined that the Punta Lobos center had reached 4,443 MT of biomass, exceeding its limit by 123 MT, or 3 percent over the maximum allowed in its permit documents.

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“It should be noted that the previous cycle (2017-2019) reached overproduction at 14 months out of a total of 18 months, yielding an average crop weight of 7.3 kilograms. In the case of the current cycle (2021-2023), overproduction was reached in the eleventh month, reaching an average weight of 3.7 kilograms for each specimen, making it very likely that Punta Lobos will be reached at the end of the current cycle The center of growth will record even higher levels than the overproduction registered in the 2017-2019 cycle,” reads the document, signed by Jaime Jeldres García, the investigating prosecutor in SMA’s Sanctions and Compliance Division.

The two violations attributed to Australis in central Punta Lobos are classified by SMA as serious, meaning the company faces a penalty that may include revoking the farm’s environmental permit, immediate farm closure and a fine of up to 100 may include CLP 3.62 billion (US$3.9 million, €3.9 million).

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According to the SMA document, another breach discovered by Sernapesca in Punta Lobos in March 2022 is related to the unauthorized use of physical mechanisms for the application of nanobubbles to alter the oxygen levels in the farming center’s seabed. However, this is considered a minor infraction compared to overproduction.

Amid mounting questions in Chile about the environmental sustainability of the country’s $5.2 billion (€5.2 billion) salmon farming industry, including Chilean President Gabriel Boric, regulators have stepped up their scrutiny of the industry’s activities. In July 2022, SMA filed a lawsuit against salmon farmer Marine Farm for overproduction and seabed alteration in the operation of the Isla Partida salmon farming center in the Aysén region.

In another case, Punta Arenas, Chile-based salmon farmer Nova Austral faces sanctions that could cost it up to 20 percent of its total production capacity. According to the determination of the farmer had overproduced at three of its centers – Cockburn 14, Cockburn 23 and Aracena 10 – SMA requested the revocation of the environmental licenses for the three farms, all located within the Alberto de Agostini National Park. Nova Austral said so be forced to suspend its Chilean activities when the sanctions are implemented.

Photo courtesy of the Chilean Environment Agency

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