Argentina becomes first country to ban open-net salmon farming due to impact on environment

Similar fish farming techniques have caused plagues of sea lice and ecological crises in Scotland, Norway and Chile

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Thursday 08 July 2021 16:03 BST

Related video: Salmon cannon fires migratory fish over dam

Argentina’s southernmost province has banned the use of intensive open-net salmon farms due to serious concerns about the impact the large cages, which can each contain tens of thousands of fish, could have on the marine environment and local economy.

The decision taken by the provincial legislature in Tierra del Fuego, followed campaigns and demonstrations by locals and effectively bans salmon farming in Argentina, according to the Buenos Aires Times.

The open-net farms are the same type used to farm salmon around Scotland, Norway, Canada and Chile, all of which are battling major environmental issues caused by intensive salmon production, including sea lice infections which have heavily impacted remaining wild populations, and huge algal blooms which have killed millions of fish.

“Saying no to salmon farms is possible”, said local politician Pablo Villegas, who presented the bill.

“I think it’s important to point out that the message is clear: If we work with our head and heart, with conviction, commitment, passion, and responsibility, that translates into achievements,” he said.

The approval of the bill has halted plans to create what would have been Argentina’s first intensive salmon farm, in the Beagle Channel, which runs along the country’s south coast.

The ban covers the maritime jurisdictions and lakes of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and the South Atlantic Islands — an area with around 175,000 inhabitants.

The law sets out allowances for the cultivation and stocking of trout to promote non-industrial sports fishing, which is a key aspect of tourism in the area.

David López Katz, a member of the “Without Blue There Is No Green” campaign against salmon farming launched by the Rewilding Argentina NGO, said: "Salmon farming would have represented a threat to the province’s economy, since in Ushuaia half of the families depend on tourism, an activity that could not coexist with the environmental impact of the industry.

“This law is an example of caring for a sustainable economic and productive model, which respects cultural traditions and artisan practices that generate genuine jobs,” he added.

Ushuaia harbour in the Beagle Channel in Tierra Del Fuego, the region which has rejected plans for a large salmon farm, in Argentina

In neighbouring Chile, 5,000 tonnes of salmon — over 20 million fish — across 18 farm sites were killed earlier this year after the waste from the fish farms caused harmful algal blooms which absorb all the oxygen in the water, suffocating the fish.

In Scotland, the open-net farms have been responsible for the escape of more than half a million farmed salmon last year, as seals have torn open nets to reach the fish.

Escapes are a major concern as interbreeding is considered the biggest threat to wild Atlantic salmon, and the farmed fish can also pass on parasites to wild populations more readily.

The large environmental impact of salmon farming, which includes feeding salmon on fish oil and smaller fish, ground-up feathers, soybeans and chicken fat, as well as the impact on the marine environment, has seen pressure for the industry to move out of the oceans and onto land, however, industry experts have suggested the costs of doing so would be exorbitant and make salmon farming uneconomical.

The release of Netflix documentary Seaspiracy earlier this year put the industry under the spotlight, with claims that the salmon farming sector generated the same amount of organic waste as the entire population of Scotland. The film also showed what it said was secret footage from a farm in the Highlands showing thousands of dead salmon piled in a tanker.

Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland, told The Independent: “The Argentinians, intensely aware of what an environmental disaster salmon farming has been in other countries, have moved decisively to prevent a similar disaster in their coastal waters.

“In stark contrast the Scottish government, which has for decades facilitated an industry that has destroyed coastal ecosystems and decimated wild fish stocks, is hellbent on enabling open cage salmon farming to expand exponentially. When will they ever learn?”

Salmon farming has boomed since it began in Norway in the 1960s, but it has come as wild populations have collapsed.

Numbers of wild salmon and sea trout found in Scotland’s rivers have declined by 70 per cent over the past two decades alone, and according to Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland, “wild Atlantic Salmon is on the brink of becoming an endangered species in our lifetime, with global populations of wild Atlantic salmon are estimated to have declined from 8-10 million in the 1970s to just 3 million fish today”.

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