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Last Updated:[07-07-2009 08:46:21 EDT] Zoom in Zoom out Back to Tradenews

ISA Virus puts the Chilean Salmon Trade in Dire Straits

tradenews The spread of infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) among salmonid farming population has pushed the Chilean fishing industry to a full-fledged crisis. The industry is confronted with problems including unemployment, rising debt levels of fishing firms, cancellation of orders from importers, decline in production, consumer fears and so on.

Until the disease was first detected in July 2007, the Chilean fish farming was booming with periodical expansion for the past one decade in view of rising global demand for particularly salmon. However, the industry that has grown by 20 percent since 2003 to 2006 has expanded by just 2 percent last year.

There are cancellations of orders and decline in imports of salmon from the US, the largest importer of about 75 percent due to fear among the consumers over getting infected through consumption despite experts ruling out any such possibilities. According to industry sources, the 2009 and 2010 will be the most difficult years for salmon farming with estimates of decline up to 50 percent on total output.

Similarly, the industry is reported to have lost more than 20 percent jobs to about 45,000 from a high of around 70,000 out of the direct and indirect employment. The rise in unemployment among salmon workers is of serious concern as some regions of southern Chile, the salmon industry accounts for as much as 90 percent of employment.

The Chilean salmon farming companies are blamed for the farming malpractices such as, excessive use of dangerous antibiotics known as quinolones and cramped farming cages that make the fish susceptible to diseases. The Chilean farmers allegedly use quinolones 300 times more than the amount used in Norway, where the virus originated in the 1980s, has implemented measures to control it, including vaccines and limiting fish numbers. The abuse of antibiotics among the fish has made the disease unresponsive to various prevention methods.

Chile exported $2.4bn of salmon and trout in 2008 but the industry is carrying a debt burden of about $4bn as the direct fallout of ISA attack on farmed salmon. Although the government in conjunction with the industry group, SalmonChile has intervened to save the industry through sustainable measures, the companies believe that the second largest producer of salmon and trout after Norway could only reach its peak level by a minimum of seven years.

By Jose Roy

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