Norway’s plans to expand salmon farming in Argentina scuppered after vote

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Ushuaia bay at Beagle Channel/Image: Getty/Marco_Piunti
Ushuaia bay at Beagle Channel/Image: Getty/Marco_Piunti

Related tags: Salmon, Norway, Aquaculture

Argentina has effectively become the first country to ban salmon farming after Tierra del Fuego, the country’s southernmost province, approved a bill outlawing the practice in open net pens.

The vote sinks plans announced in March 2018 by the Argentine government to form a partnership with Norway to study the feasibility of developing a domestic salmon industry in the Beagle Channel, a strait in Tierra del Fuego.

The bill claimed the plans would damage the region’s environment and economy. Earlier this year in April, the death of around 5,000 tonnes of farmed salmon in neighbouring Chile — the world's second-largest producer – was blamed on algal blooms, a phenomenon that reduces oxygen in the water and causes the fish to suffocate.

Salmon farming is linked to other problems such as sea lice infestations and disease which can impact local habitats and species.

Tierra del Fuego’s provincial deputy Pablo Villegas called the legislation an important step towards the protection of the country's ecosystems. "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. Saying no to salmon farms is possible,"​ he said.

Environmental campaigners said the ‘watershed’ ban could signal a turning tide against global salmon farming.

"Salmon farming would have represented a threat to the province's economy, since in Ushuaia [the provincial capital of Tierra del Fuego] half of the families depend on tourism, an activity that could not coexist with the environmental impact of the industry,”​ said David López Katz, a member of the Rewilding Argentina NGO.

"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.

Estefanía Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Greenpeace's oceans campaign, noted: “This event sets a historical precedent for the rest of the country and the world. In this way, Tierra del Fuego avoids the environmental disaster that salmon farming may have caused in the Beagle Channel. It is a great triumph for citizens and civil and environmental organizations that opposed salmon farming in the Beagle since the plans were announced.”

"This legislation, which will prevent the expansion of an industry that has serious animal welfare and environmental problems, is an important example of the local government protecting its environment and listening to its citizens," ​said Krzysztof Wojtas, Head of Fish Policy at Compassion in World Farming. 

Booker Prize-winning Australian novelist, Richard Flanagan, who’s also the author of Toxic, a book about the salmon industry in Tasmania, added: "Argentina has in Patagonia one of the last great places of wonder in the world. When people come to see what was saved, they will also mourn what has been lost in Chile, in Norway, in Scotland, in Canada, and my home island of Tasmania—and they will wish their governments had shown the wisdom of Argentina.”

But accredited certification bodies in Europe said salmon farms can and are acting in a socially and responsibly manner.

A spokesperson from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council told FoodNavigator that ASC certified salmon farms can minimise impacts on local ecosystems via, for example, carrying out impact assessments to protect birds, marine mammals and sensitive habitats; ensure they are not sighted in High Conservation Value Areas and minimising fish escapes to an absolute minimum.

“All ASC certified salmon farms can only achieve this status by demonstrating to independent auditors their environmental and social responsibility against the highest standards, in a thorough and transparent process, and all our standards are based on the latest science. This means that rather than avoiding all salmon, consumers can look for the ASC label and reward those salmon farmers that are reducing their impacts,"​ we were told.

“At ASC we think salmon farms should be judged on their own merits, based on a detailed, independent assessment of their performance, as well as the feedback of local stakeholders and experts. ASC certification requires exactly this: on-site audits lasting several days and taking water quality samples, measuring dissolved oxygen levels, interviewing workers and neighbours, checking record keeping, seeking feedback from stakeholders, and much more besides. All of these results are transparently published and anyone can view them on the ASC website.

“Our advice to consumers is to remember that we can help change food production for the better. Although as individuals we can sometimes feel insignificant, we do have the power to reward the responsible producers with our shopping decisions. Salmon farming, like all food productio​n, has impacts and it can be done irresponsibly, but by choosing the ASC label we can encourage more farmers to improve their performance, while continuing to enjoy our favourite seafood.”

The Marine Stewardship Council advises consumers to avoid wild Atlantic salmon as they are 'struggling in the wild and numbers are dangerously low'. It recommends people choose salmon farmed in land-based aquaculture recirculating systems (RAS): technology that aims to minimise the environmental impact and maximise fish welfare of farmed salmon.

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