Chile’s Sernapesca starts investigation after toxic algae causes salmon mortalities

Matilde Mereghetti

Chile’s government agency for fishery and aquaculture, Sernapesca, preventively initiated an investigation to check on the presence of toxic micro-algae in Gulf of Penas, in the Aysen region, it said.

“This proliferation is not close to salmon farms,” one informed source told Undercurrent News. It can affect fish being transported but at the moment it is not a problem similar to the one occurred last year, he added.

“The proliferation has not spread from the Golfo de Penas,” he also said

“The situation worries,” a second source from a salmon producer told Undercurrent. It needs to be followed closely, monitored and investigated but is not complex today, he added.

It is circumscribed to a specific space area, which is large but specific so to date it does not affect the areas with salmon production, but only the route with wellboats transporting smolt and live fish through the Gulf of Penas, the second source also said, pointing out tha specialists had to monitor closely the development and that the situation should not be neglected.

Sernapesca ordered to vessels transporting live salmon to avoid passing through the affected area until the investigation is completed. Or, if it is inevitable, to do so without recirculating the water, to reduce the mortality risk for the fish.

Sernapesca’s deputy director for aquaculture, Alicia Gallardo, reported that the agency has collected samples from the affected area, coordinating the investigation work with the maritime authority, the institute of fisheries promotion and other relevant bodies.

The investigation started after the industry reported a massive mortality event in a shipment of smolts that were transported in a wellboat to the region of Magallanes for their seeding at sea, as well as at a cargo of salmon traveling South to North for its harvest in Quellon, Sernapesca also said.

Chilean salmon producer Nova Austral registered close to the Gulf of Penas a mortality of 149,000 fishes that were being transported from Puerto Montt to the firm’s Aracena 5 farm, La Prensa Austral reported. Nova Austral valued the loss in about $390,000.

Sernapesca will now investigate what type of algae was involved.

Gallardo also said that Seranapesca activated the contingency team in order to maintain constant communication and establish timely prevention and control in the Biobío, Los Lagos, Aysen and Magallanes regions.

However, Sernapesca Los Lagos’ regional director, Eduardo Aguilera, emphasized that this algae flowering occurred in an area far from the salmon farms and therefore would not have the same characteristics as the algae bloom that took place in February 2016.

Last October, Sernapesca introduced new rules as part of a massive mortality management program, which speeded up time for companies to report mortalities and shortened deadlines for the withdrawal of massive mortalities from salmon farms.

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