General · 29th September 2009
submitted by susan westren
Taken from Island Tides Sept 24 issue
Disaster In Chile Not An Opportunity
For BC Fish Farms
Rusty cages, feed bags, buoys, empty chemical containers, and other debris form the industry litter the foreshores, beaches, and ghostly work yards of Chile’s coastal communities, the remnants of an industry that is pulling up stakes and getting out. Left to deal with the mess are the people and marine environment of this land of otherwise breathtaking beauty and cultural warmth. This is the northern entry point to the famed Patagonia—much like BC’s coast, one of the great natural wonders on the planet, unacceptably marred by the fish farm industry.
Chile’s coastal communities and marine environment have paid another heavy toll for the industry: much of the wild fish from the waters off Chile’s coast, such as anchovies and sardines
are ground into meal to raise carnivorous farmed salmon. It takes anywhere between three and five pounds of wild fish to yield one pound of farmed salmon, and the result has been the depletion of Chile’s coastal ecosystems and devastation to
communities who once depended on artisanal fishing for employment and sustenance.
And so it was to my horror that I read Mary Ellen Walling’s callous take on the Chilean crisis that I had just witnessed. Walling told the Vancouver Sun: ‘Prices are up 10 to 15% over the past six months because of the lack of product in the marketplace. It’s good for the BC industry because we’ve got good, solid prices moving forward. There’s a significant lack of Chilean product in the US market. It’s a great opportunity [for BC salmon farmers], but we can’t take advantage of it. BC is home to a range of anti-salmon-farming groups. [Their] campaign has delayed opportunities for the industry to expand.’
Having witnessed first-hand the plight of the Chilean people, this kind of statement is sheerly appalling in its ignorance and selfishness. Here are three big ways the primarily Norwegian industry is now profiting from its own negligence and the suffering of the Chilean people and their environment:
1. Decreased global supply = higher market prices. This is Walling’s main argument.
2. Excuse for expansion in BC. Walling is using the crisis to push for more farms in BC—just as Norway is doing right now (during a recent trip to Norway, I observed their fisheries minister announcing intentions to boost production there by 5%). Note however that the regulations in Norway are much stricter than they are in Chile or in Canada. The irony is that the push to expand the industry in Chile is very much responsible for the ecological crisis that has now hobbled it. The same may well happen here if we’re not careful.
3. Privatizing the seas and consolidating the market in Chile. This is the really sneaky and perverse one. Not unlike the financial meltdown and ensuing bailout in the US and around the world, those responsible for the problems are now poised to profit from them.
The Norwegian companies who likely brought the virus to Chile are now lobbying along with the banks who finance the industry to privatize the country’s ocean farm tenures. Unlike Canada and Norway, the Norwegian behemoths don’t yet
dominate the industry in Chile—roughly half of the companies are still Chilean owned. However, they are smaller than the Norwegian multi-nationals and thus more immediately vulnerable to bankruptcy from the ISA crisis. The farm tenures have always been leased to companies by the state. Now that many of the smaller Chilean companies are defaulting on their loans as they have no product to sell, the banks and the big Norwegian companies are pushing to privatize the water rights, so that they can take them over as collateral for the defaulted loans. The banks will seize the farm tenures and sell them to the big Norwegian companies—who can weather the storm of their own making...and presto!
The Norwegian companies now have a monopoly on the Chilean industry, just like they do everywhere else. In the very least they are profiting from their own negligence, which is, for lack of a better word, disgusting. Having just clashed with Walling, her industry colleagues, and chummy Canadian government representatives in Norway at the world’s biggest fish farming trade show, AquaNor, I’m no stranger to the industry’s tactics. But this piece of PR—profiting from the tragedy that is the Chilean ISA crisis—represents a new low in my view.
Walling, the industry, and our provincial and federal governments need to hear from the people of BC that we will no longer stand for the problems associated with this industry in BC and around the world.
In the wake of the collapse of the Fraser Sockeye and the crises in Chile, Scotland, Ireland—everywhere this industry operates—it is time to say, ‘Enough is enough!’
Damien Gillis, Vancouver