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article imageChile salmon farms lose 23 million fish due to toxic algae bloom

By Karen Graham     Mar 10, 2016 in Environment
An ongoing and deadly toxic algae bloom off the coast of Chile, the world's second largest salmon exporter, has sent the country's salmon industry into a tailspin.
The deadly toxic algae bloom has already caused the death of 23 million salmon, or 15 percent of Chile's salmon production, leading to economic losses that could reach more than $800 million. The losses so far amount to about 100,000 tons and include Atlantic salmon, Coho, and trout.
Jose Miguel Burgos, the head of the government's Sernapesca fisheries body told Reuters there are so many dead fish they could fill 14 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The situation is so serious it could lead to job cuts in the sector, said industry group SalmonChile.
Chile’s director of National Fisheries and Aquaculture, German Iglesias, told MercoPress the El Nino weather phenomenon is to blame, saying, “This summer’s climatic conditions have led to massive algae blooms, first in the north of Aysén and Central Chiloe and now in the Puerto Montt area, causing mortality through low oxygen and damage in the (fish) gills."
Toxic algae blooms becoming more frequent
The world is seeing more frequent algae blooms, both in the oceans and in freshwater. The blooms can contaminate or kill sea life and make humans sick. The warming waters of our oceans and lakes, runoff from inorganic fertilizers and manures, and waste-water plants have played a role in creating the perfect conditions needed to cause algae blooms.
Picture of a red tide
Picture of a red tide
According to, scientists are trying to understand the reasons the fish are dying and the mechanisms the phytoplankton's use to kill the fish. There are several possibilities. First, the rapidity of the phytoplankton's growth can starve the waters of oxygen, literally suffocating the fish. Algae densities have exceeded 3,000 times the levels considered harmful to salmon.
There is also the possibility the phytoplanktons are producing neurotoxins like brevetoxin. SalmonChile's Technological Salmon Institute (Intesal) has been studying algae blooms for 26 years, and they say this is the first time Chattonella, the cause of the red tides, has presented itself in this great a magnitude.
A third possibility could be a combination of two factors. One, the lack of enough oxygen would lead to the fish suffocating, but the ability of neurotoxins, like brevetoxins produced by Chattonella have been described as muscarinic stimulants consistent with observed mucous production covering the gills of the dead fish.
Pseudochattonella verruculosa, which a team of Chilean and Norwegian scientists has identified as responsible for this algae bloom, and its similar-appearing cousin Chattonella, have historically been implicated in massive fish kills around the world.
Chile's had a rough couple of years
Algae blooms are impacting aquaculture around the world. If you eat salmon in the United States, chances are that it came from Chile. Only one country produces more farmed salmon that Chile, and that is Norway. The U.S. imports around 100,000 pounds of salmon from Chile annually.
The toxic algae blooms this year can be added to an ongoing list of tragedies in the country's aquaculture industry. Last April, debris from the eruption of Chile’s Calbuco volcano killed an estimated 20 million, mostly juvenile, salmon. Pollution of Chile's coastal waters has been an ongoing sanitation problem with fish farming.
The fish loss from the volcanic eruption in Chile in April 2015 was serious.
The fish loss from the volcanic eruption in Chile in April 2015 was serious.
Adapt 2030
In October, Chile levied its largest fine ever on the salmon farming company Los Fiordos for environmental and sanitary violations. The company was fined $3.2 million for 35 environmental and sanitation violations at 18 salmon farms in the southern Aysen region of the country.
The biggest shake-up for Chile's salmon industry came last July, when U.S. retailer, Costco dropped Chilean salmon contracts in favor of Norwegian farmed salmon because of Chile's heavy-handed use of antibiotics in the industry. This story was featured in Digital Journal.
According to the industry publication IntraFish, the current plan to deal with the dead fish is to dump them 60 miles offshore. While the practice is in compliance with the London Protocol, to protect human health, no mention is made of the impact of all those stinking toxin-infected fish carcasses on marine life.
More about Salmon farming, chile's salmon farms, Toxic algae, El Nino, 23 million salmon
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