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Argentina: First Country to Ban Salmon Fishing

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

Jennifer McDowall explores the reasons behind the banning of salmon farming by Argentina.

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Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago in southern Argentina, has become the first place in the world to ban salmon farming due to fears that it would negatively impact the area. The local authority voted unanimously against a proposed initiative to develop an Argentine salmon farming site in partnership with Norway.

Salmon farming is a process of intense cultivation and harvesting of the species for commercial gain. The salmon are kept in high densities in open pens or cages along the coastline. This practice requires a specific clean, cold-water location. The only place suitable in Argentina is the Beagle Channel in Tierra Del Fuego, a biodiverse strait where ecotourism is one of the main economic activities.

In 2019, the Argentine development was given the go ahead. However, after protests from local communities, the project was put on hold. A bill was then proposed to outlaw the process altogether. The Tierra del Fuego Authority then voted to ban salmon farming to ensure the “preservation and protection of the natural resources, genetic resources and lake and marine ecosystems” of the area.

Salmon Welfare Issues

The consumption of salmon has tripled since 1980 and is now one of the most popular fish eaten in Europe, the US and Japan. The farming of this fish is a rapidly growing industry, and salmon aquaculture accounts for 70% of the market. This practice has experienced exponential growth over the last thirty years or so, and this increase is projected to continue, but consumers are unaware of the environmental and economic costs of salmon farming.

The process of salmon farming is damaging in several ways. Diseases, viruses and parasites, such as sea lice, spread easily among farmed salmon populations due to the high density of fish in pens. An investigation into salmon farming revealed conditions described as a breeding ground for invasions of parasitic sea lice” and stated that farming causes fundamental changes in the density and occurrence of lice in coastal waters.

According to Estefanía González of Greenpeace, as salmon are not native to Argentina, the required quantities of these compounds would be significant. She believes that the “impact they generate on the ecosystem makes it is practically impossible for this activity to be carried out without environmental consequences.”

Environmental Consequences

Waste from the fish themselves and excess fish food can cause a build-up of nutrients in the water. This not only reduces the oxygen levels of the water, which can harm aquatic life, but it also promotes algal blooms. These blooms can also prove fatal to the salmon and can be harmful to other wildlife including humans.

David López Katz of the Rewilding Argentina Foundation, considers the environmental impact from salmon fishing a “threat to the economy” in an area like Tierra del Fuego, where tourism is important:

“Half of the families depend on tourism, an activity that could not coexist with the environmental impact of the industry. In short, this law is an example of the care of a sustainable economic and productive model, which respects cultural traditions and artisanal practices that generate genuine jobs”

Global Problem

It’s not just areas local to salmon farms that feel the effect of the aquaculture industry. The process is causing a depletion of wild fish stocks globally, as salmon farms depend on other wild fish: rather than the krill and shrimp that wild salmon eat, farmed salmon are fed mostly small fish and fish oil. 20% of all fish caught each year (18 million tonnes) is used to produce oil and fishmeal, and approximately 70% of this is used to feed farmed salmon.

96% of the world’s salmon is produced by Norway, Scotland, Chile and Canada. While Scotland has plans to significantly increase its salmon producing capacity by 2030, in Norway the industry is expected to increase five-fold by 2050. Argentina may have taken a step in the right direction but there’s no sign the rest of the world will move to limit this $20 billion industry.


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