Can fish farming be both profitable and financially rewarding?

Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego province in Patagonia has become the first place in the world to ban open salmon hatcheries due to its high level of environmental damage. But local governments and companies are encouraging alternative farming systems for native species of sea and river fish. Is it possible to combine sustainability and profitability in fish farming?

At the southern end of Argentina, the two largest oceans in the world, the Atlantic and the Pacific, are connected by the Beagle Channel. The strait through which Charles Darwin sailed on his way to the Galápagos Islands, where he would eventually write the theory of evolution, connects the two huge bodies of water and forms a unique ecosystem. There, there is an incredible biodiversity of fish, mammals, birds and underwater forests.

However, this magnificent natural setting has been under threat since 2018 due to attempts to farm salmon, an exotic species for the region, based on techniques that have proven to be harmful to the environment in countries such as Chile and the Norway.

The project was finally halted in June 2021, when the province of Tierra del Fuego unanimously approved an unprecedented law banning the farming of salmon in natural waters. However, the promoters of the law assure that this decision does not hinder the possibilities of farming salmon or other aquatic species, both in Patagonia and in other regions of Argentina. On the contrary, there are several projects in the country for native fish, sea and river, which give good results and are based on environmentally friendly methods.

“The law passed in the province is not anti-production,” says Carlos Cantú, Tierra del Fuego’s fisheries secretary. “Although it explicitly establishes the prohibition of salmon in natural waters with the methods used in other countries, it leaves open the possibility of raising this species on land, with systems that use the recirculation of water. and do not pollute, while preserving the safety of our natural environments.”

The plan is to maintain the crystal clear waters of the Beagle Channel to promote other crops, such as mussels or trout. The province itself has a fish farming station where trout are raised to stock lakes and rivers, which helps to promote its tourist appeal.

These species are widely valued by locals, who choose them over the pink salmon which was intended to be farmed primarily for export to northern hemisphere markets. In the city of Ushuaia, for example, many restaurants announced in recent years that they would not serve salmon, part of a campaign that attracted renowned chefs and gastronomic entrepreneurs, then spread to the whole of society.

“Reaching this level of consensus was not easy because there were political interests and significant capital from foreign governments,” explains Martina Sasso, coordinator of Sin Azul No Hay Verde (No Blue, No Green), the program of marine conservation of the Rewilding Argentina Foundation. , who has played a leading role in campaigns against salmon farming in recent years. we have reached the stage of voting and approving a provincial law. law with all sectors aligned: state officials, local businessmen and neighbors said no to salmon farming. »

Salmon farms in Chile have damaged the environment

The national government criticized the decision taken in the province of Patagonia. Production Minister Matías Kulfas told reporters he considered the ban “a mistake”. Nevertheless, this did not intimidate the people of Tierra del Fuego, who witnessed first-hand the experience of their Chilean neighbors and the socio-environmental devastation the country has suffered.

Chile is the world’s second largest salmon producer and, after more than 30 years of using these techniques, is beginning to feel the severe consequences of the industry. Some of them are the abuse of antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals, the escape of salmonids and the introduction of exotic species into natural environments, the introduction and spread of diseases and the accumulation of solid and liquid waste on the seabed.

In Tierra del Fuego, the idea that the law has put a brake on a productive matrix has been rejected. “Salmon farming can be done, but on land. It’s a much more expensive system, but it’s possible, other countries are doing it and that’s what will allow us to keep our ecosystems intact”, said Martina Sasso, pointing out that there are several such projects underway for bivalve farming.

Example of success in the province of Chaco

Learning from officials and business people how to properly promote native species is something new in Argentina, and conservationists are enthusiastic about it. While in Patagonia salmon farming has been banned to protect the environment and the farming of native species is promoted, another good solution comes from the other side of the country. In the province of Chaco, a private company is developing an innovative fish farming project that combines fish farming with rice farming.

The company was previously asked about the use of agrochemicals in their fields and their effects on surrounding people and the environment. After that, they decided to conduct studies on these impacts, which demonstrated that they were able to raise fish in the same areas where rice was grown. The species they chose was the pacu, a river fish highly valued for the taste of its meat and its high protein value.

Fish consumption in Argentina is quite low: about 5 kilos per capita per year, while the world average is 20 kilos per person per year. This gap widens in the northern provinces of the country, which have the highest poverty rates.

“Our products are specially dedicated to the national and regional market. We produce around 400 tons per year, which are used to manufacture 12 types of products that go directly to supermarkets and stores”, explains Marcos Meichtry, one of the family managers. . company that implemented this system, Teko. “When we started, there was no similar product in the local trade and we can say that it is a success that has a lot of potential to expand, both to other provinces and to neighboring countries, such as Bolivia and Paraguay, which have no access to the sea and have a high demand for fish. »

Fish farming is a vast field that has a lot of potential for development in Argentina, a country with a huge territory and a great wealth of fish. The challenge for the future is to choose how these activities will be developed: favoring profitability and the requirements of external markets or respecting the environment and caring for native species.

This article is part of an upcoming FairPlanet feature on fishing in Latin America.

Image by Ian Woodhead via Flickr.

Previous Fish plays vital role in human health, says veterinary academic expert: The Tribune India
Next Marine waste reprocessing: challenge to develop clean aquatic meat from fish cells