Chile farms lost millions by needlessly throwing away salmon after algal bloom

[Chile] A top scientist caused further torment to Chilean salmon industry executives by claiming throwing away millions of fish killed by algal bloom was unnecessary.

Gustaaf Hallegraeff, a top scientist in algal blooms and climate change at the University of Tasmania, was one of a group of experts summoned by Chilean producer association SalmonChile to take part in a workshop to debrief the catastrophic outbreak of algal bloom in March that killed millions of fish and led to an industry PR disaster in Chile.

Hallegraeff said that Pseudochattonella, the strand of algae that hit the Chilean Los Lagos region in March, suffocated the fish by getting into their gills, but didn’t intoxicate them, meaning they could have been sold to the market if immediately harvested.

“There is no evidence that they have any human health effects,” Hallegraeff told participants at a one-day seminar in Puerto Varas, Chile. “They probably still could have sold it on the market somewhere.”

Hallegraeff, who also participated in a two-day workshop with government official and salmon company officials last week, has previously investigated similar outbreaks of pseudochattonella in Australia and Japan. He cited a case where Australian aquaculture companies needlessly threw away $40 million worth of farm-raised Bluefin tuna.

Chilean farmers waited for a government clearance to throw most of the dead sea fish into the sea because it was too much capacity to process for the local fishmeal processing industry. The farmers were criticized by non-profit groups for letting the fish rot in the sea, and subsequently non-profits made the link that the decomposing salmon thrown into the sea could have been another outbreak of algae, this time Alexandrium, that intoxicated crustaceans.

The alexandrium outbreak caused an outright ban on fishing around the island of Chiloe, causing fishermen to go on a 3-week strike blocking the salmon companies from exporting from the island.

Besides the loss of sales and reputation incurred during the strike, the fishermen’s protest became front page news in Chile and the rumor that salmon companies caused the Alexandrium outbreak went viral, despite Chile’s government dispelling the theory.

The government of Michelle Bachelet later ordered an exhaustive study to see if the decomposing salmon was in any way linked to the algal bloom, and the results of that are expected later this year.

The salmon companies, many of which are traded on the Santiago Stock Exchange, reported more than $50 million in losses due to the algal bloom, while they lost about 100,000 metric tons in expected sales. The effect of the Chilean algal bloom is expected to be felt in the main US market later this year, according to Marine Harvest and others.

Hallegraeff said the scientific community presumes that algal blooms are toxic – in fact only one strand of Chattonella blooms, called brevis, has been found to be toxic in studies, the scientist said. Hallegraeff showed several of his own studies of fish gills to show how delicate they are and how they become impaired when coming into contact with algae.


Photo: Dr. Hallegraeff of Tasmania University, an expert of algal blooms, addresses seminar in Puerto Varas on Aug. 12.

View original article at: Chile farms lost millions by needlessly throwing away salmon after algal bloom

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