VALPARAÍSO, Chile – After being severely hit by an outbreak of the Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISA), the Chilean salmon industry has started to rebound thanks to sanitary measures preventing the spread of the infection.
“Although we suffered a big blow, we have an excellent outlook,” said Carlos Odebret, general manager of Chilean salmon producers association SalmonChile.
The virus, which first appeared in Chile in July 2007, caused the overall production of salmon to plummet 50% and 15,000 employees to lose their jobs, according to the country’s National Fisheries Service.
The Chilean salmon industry “suffered a brutal loss of around US$2 billion between 2007 and 2009,” José Gago, vice president of SalmonChile said, “which is more or less the assets that had been formed in the 25 years the industry has existed.”
In 2010, the revenues for the industry are expected to be about US$1.4 billion, Gago said.
But artisan fishermen remain concerned, as research indicates the virus can also harm salmon in the wild and not just those raised in farms, where all the containment and relief efforts have been focused, said Cristian Tapia, a lawyer representing Chile’s National Artisan Fishermen Confederation (CONAPACH).
“If the disease moves to wild species, this will cause the wild salmon population to decrease, thus hurting artisan fishermen,” he said.
What is ISA?
The ISA virus causes high mortality in salmon populations, especially in Atlantic salmon, which is the most common type in Chile’s fishing farms, said Dr. Soledad Álvarez, a veterinary in Valparaíso.
“The disease causes the darkening of the fish’s skin, anemia, hemorrhages in the spleen and liver and increases the size of the animal,” she said.
Chile is the second largest exporter of fish in the world, trailing only Norway, according to SalmonChile, which includes more than 30 salmon companies in the southern part of the country.
In 2008, sales of exported salmon were US$2.33 billion, but in 2009, they barely reached US$2 billion, according to Chile’s Central Bank.
Containment measures by the government included sanitation control, constant monitoring and the disposal of fish presenting symptoms, the Fisheries Service said in a statement.
The country’s vast water resources and the sophistication of its salmon industry are propelling the rebound, said Renee Valenzuela, who owns a salmon company.
“Chile’s potential as a producer of salmon is huge,” he said. “The sector has the human resources to develop a clean, productive and self-sufficient salmon industry.”