In Chile’s Patagonia, another salmon plant angers water defenders

In Chile’s Patagonia, another salmon plant angers water defenders

  • The Dumestre salmon plant near the Chilean city of Puerto Natales is receiving backlash from conservationists who say the facility will dump waste into Patagonian waters.
  • The plant can process over 70,000 tons of fish per year, requiring the management of 23,000 cubic meters of industrial liquid waste and the movement of 350 ships in the Señoret canal.
  • Local activists say the community wasn’t properly consulted about their needs before the plant was opened.

A recently opened salmon processing plant in southern Chile is raising concerns about whether environmental regulations were properly carried out to prevent contamination of marine ecosystems and clean drinking water.

The Dumestre salmon plant near the city of Puerto Natales is receiving backlash from conservationists and residents who say the facility is at risk of dumping waste in the fjords and channels of southern Chile. Some residents, including Indigenous Kawesqar, also complain that the plant made an aggressive push into the area without properly consulting them.

“This plant just crowns the salmon industry as a powerful invader of Patagonia,” said Loreto Vásquez Salvador, of the Última Esperanza Citizen Association, an activist group that has been fighting the plant.

Aquaculture (the farming or cultivation of freshwater and marine species) has become a growing environmental concern over recent decades as Chile climbs the list of the world’s largest producers of salmon and trout. Many aquaculture methods have been known to deplete oxygen in the water, killing off coral reefs and compromising other fish populations with antibiotics.

The Dumestre plant, operated by Australis Seafoods, started construction in 2019 and opened last December following years of protests from locals — even after they were promised hundreds of local jobs.

The Dumestre salmon plant near the city of Puerto Natales. (Photo via Agrupación Ciudadana de Última Esperanza)

With the ability to process over 70,000 tons of salmon per year, the Dumestre operation needs around 350 ships to travel through the Señoret canal per year, according to a 2018 Greenpeace investigation. It’s also responsible for managing 23,000 cubic meters of industrial liquid waste per year.

Greenpeace estimated the operation will use electricity equivalent to around 20% of all Puerto Natales homes and 12,000 liters of water per year, putting undue stress on the local drinking supply.

“The issue is the transit of so many boats, the transit of barges and the constant movement of tons of fish pellets,” Vásquez said, adding: “But it’s not only an environmental effect. It has to do with a direct impact on the ways of life in the city.”

Dumestre is operating near feeding and nesting areas for around 30 species of aquatic birds, according to a University of Magallanes study, including the Coscoroba swan (Coscoroba coscoroba), imperial shag (Leucocarbo atriceps), rock shag (Phalacrocorax magellanicus) and buff-necked ibis (Theristicus caudatus).

Last year, Chile exported 751,259 tons of salmon and trout worth $6.6 billion, representing a nearly 30% increase in revenue from 2021, according to the Chilean Salmon Council. The country has become a world leader in salmon exports, competing with top producers like Norway, Sweden, Canada and the UK.

Australis Seafoods, acquired by the Chinese Joyvio Food Co. in 2019, has 96 aquaculture concessions in southern Chile and five freshwater hatcheries, according to a 2021 company report.

As it’s grown, the company has built a track record of environmental damage. In 2021, environmental groups accused the company of contributing to biological contamination and decreasing oxygen levels in waters within the Kawésqar National Reserve, Chile’s second-largest national park, posing a threat to wildlife. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article.

The Dumestre salmon plant near the city of Puerto Natales. (Photo via Sustentarse)

“There is no guarantee that there aren’t any harmful effects, damages or environmental burdens on the marine environment where [the company] operates,” said an environmental impact report.

Residents filed complaints during the construction of the Dumestre plant for removing the sea bed without authorization, installing pipelines and disturbing an estuary, among other things, according to the Última Esperanza Citizen Association and Sustentarse, an environmental NGO. There was also concern that the operation was disturbing a Zone of Tourist Interest, which establishes conservation measures to promote ecotourism.

Following the start of the environmental impact assessment, residents filed various complaints in 2019 requesting that approval for the project be revoked. But they were denied a few months later. In September 2021, an injunction to stop construction of the plant was filed with the Supreme Court but ultimately rejected.

“Unfortunately, in Chile, there isn’t a real, conclusive evaluation process that takes communities into account and how they’re affected economically, socially or environmentally when these types of processing plants are installed,” Vásquez said.

Banner image: Fish farming off the Chilean coast. (Photo via Agrupación Ciudadana de Última Esperanza)

Indigenous Kawésqar take on salmon farms in Chile’s southernmost fjords



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