Chilean farmers’ algal bloom losses double

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Salmon farm, Los Lagos, Chile

Losses from the toxic algae outbreak in Chile have almost doubled in the past week, the latest figures suggest.

The Chilean Undersecretariat for Fisheries and Aquaculture said more than 4,200 tonnes of salmon have died as a result of the incident with the crisis now concentrated on two specific areas of the country, affecting 18 fish farms. That figure is likely to rise further.

Last Sunday the loss reached 2,250 tonnes with the value estimated at US$4.4m. No financial figure has yet been placed on this latest total, but it will almost certainly be more than $8m.

Chile is the world’s second largest producer of farmed salmon and the outbreak, thought to be the worst for five years, is expected to impact on global salmon prices in due course.

The authorities have launched an emergency plan to deal with the situation which is spreading.

At almost $5bn a year, it is one of the country’s most important export commodities. The critical issue for the country and the industry is whether it can be contained without further serious damage.

The Chilean authorities said the latest impact is being shared by the two principal farming areas of Los Lagos and Aysén.

The main company affected is Salmones Camanchaca, the country’s largest salmon farmer, but reports suggest it is also affecting a number of other producers including Mowi.

A blame game has started with a Greenpeace spokesman in Chile suggesting that pollution from salmon farms is responsible for the outbreak. This has been rejected by the industry, which has put the blame on climate change. Sea warming is thought to have been behind another devastating outbreak off the Norwegian coast two years ago.

Algal blooms suck up so much oxygen in the water that they suffocate the fish contained in farm cages.