Exotic aquatic species were first introduced into Chile during the 1850s and 1920s. Thanks to The Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP), the first Coho salmon were imported into Chile in 1921. Over the next fifty-two years the Institute looked to cutting-edge technologies from abroad to cultivate various aquatic species and invited foreign experts to share their specialist knowledge here.
In 1974 commercial rainbow trout farming for both domestic consumption and exportation began, which triggered a radical shift to salmon farming in Chile. Following the construction of the first two cages for fry in 1976, 500,000 Coho salmon roe were imported into the country and, in 1977 the industry started open circuit farming where more than 200,000 Coho salmon fry were released into Lake Popetán and 170,000 Chinook salmon fry into Curaco de Velez, Los Lagos Region.
In 1978 the government’s contribution grew with the establishment of the Fisheries Department and the National Fisheries Service, Sernapesca. Between 1978 and 1980 a series of private initiatives lead to the creation of various companies dedicated exclusively to salmon farming.
In the early 80s a small group of visionary entrepreneurs invested in an uncertain and unknown business - one considered a high-risk venture at the time – and began salmon farming in Chile. By 1985 36 farms were operating in Chile and total production exceeded 1,200 tons. A year later, the salmon industry boom began, with production topping 2,100 tonnes per annum and feasibility studies churning out impressive return on investment figures.
That same year, as evidence of definite consolidation within the salmon farming industry, the Salmon and Trout Producers Association A. G. was formed, known as SalmonChile today. From that time on, the association’s main objective has been to secure a seal of quality for the production and promotion of Chilean salmon across global markets. It established minimum requirements at the processing plants of its member companies in order to obtain the best quality product.
In 1990 the industry moved into species reproduction and the first Chilean Coho salmon roe were cultivated. This step represented the first scientific advancement in Chile and heralded the real takeoff point for rapid growth of the industry. At the same time, major improvements in salmon feeding were made, and the subsequent increase in volume necessitated a more professional industry. Dry foods with a higher lipid content and a more efficient lipid-protein balance were introduced.
Along with the improvements in feeding processes, the industry also made progress in other farming techniques. Currently fish are pumped from the water to the selection department, so that counting, selection and grading is performed in a single operation. This keeps contact between the salmon and foreign elements to the absolute minimum.
Despite progress made in the Chilean industry and its markets, the Asian crisis of 1998 resulted in one of its worst times ever, as plummeting prices in Japan led to a massive global stock surplus. However, thanks to the steps taken to address the situation and the wisdom shown in coping with the challenges faced by various producers, the industry was able to correct the problem and begin increasing production again.
In 2003 the industry developed a Code of Good Practice, the first of its kind in Chile.
In July 2007 a farm site in Chiloe officially reported the first case of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA). The disease is caused by a virus of the Orthomyxoviridae family, of the genus Isavirus, which affects Atlantic salmon grown in sea water. The disease created an industry crisis that affected its production processes and regional development in infected areas. While it doesn’t affect humans, it does cause fish mortality. It was also diagnosed in the 1980s in Norway and later in Canada, Scotland, the Faroe Islands and the United States.
The crisis required the rapid setting up of a public-private partnership to tackle the issue. Measures taken included a governmental body issuing initial resolutions as contingency measures and subsequent resolutions for monitoring and control. During this time, the association worked with member companies to promote self-regulation and fostered relationships with government bodies.
As with any crisis, the process generated opportunities that drove the development of a new production model for the industry. This included a series of measures concerning healthy intervals, coordinated treatment and maximum densities. These were underpinned by thematic analyses focused on concessions, production infrastructure and improved health conditions including various action plans aimed at the detection of iseases, vaccinations, the use of drugs and restrictions on roe imports.
The association coordinated joint projects with companies in the industry to establish 44 health measures to promote self-regulation and a public-private partnership. These included modifying existing legislation, in particular to the General Law on Fisheries and Aquaculture and adopting new regulations. Over time, and through the effort and dedication of all involved, recovery is now evident within the industry.
The salmon aquaculture industry is currently the second largest export sector in Chile, and after Norway, Chile is the second largest producer of salmon globally. It has generated more than 70,000 direct and indirect jobs and operates in over 70 markets.