History of the Salmon Industry in Chile

Salmon is Chile’s second export product, after copper. Chile has gained world-wide prominence in the salmon industry by becoming the second largest producer of salmonids after Norway, achieving 25% of world production.

Chile has exceptional conditions for the farming of salmonids. The extensive coastline of Chile contains an abundance of fjords with suitable temperatures and hydrographic conditions, mainly in the south of the country. These valuable resources provide a competitive advantage for salmon farming.

The first instance of experimentation with salmonids in our country dates back to the nineteenth century when initial attempts were made to introduce salmon into Chilean waters. There are even reports from 1885 regarding the arrival of salmon and trout eggs, and from 1905, the importation of the first Atlantic salmon eggs (Salmo Salar) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus Mykiss).

The State became involved with various initiatives to promote the cultivation of Pacific and Chinook salmon. A milestone occurred in 1969, when a program to introduce Pacific salmon to Chile was formalized, thanks to an agreement between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Japan Fisheries Association and the National Fisheries Agency in Chile. This process included the training of Chilean professionals and technicians in Japan, laying the foundations for the rise of the salmon industry in Chile through the development of technology and expertise in local production.

The industrial and commercial phase of salmon farming began in Chile in the mid-1970s following the collaboration of Japanese, Dutch and local Chilean companies. It is in this context that in 1976 the National Fisheries Service (Sernapesca) was created, a state entity that supervises aquaculture production.

In the mid-1980s, salmon farming was an expanding industry becoming a relevant source of economic growth and employment for the country, particularly in the southern regions. The challenge at the time was to diversify the country’s exports, including programs in the fruit, wine, wood, forestry, fishing and aquaculture sectors.

Salmon farming underwent significant growth, rising from a production of 1,200 tons in 1985, to 60,000 tons in 1991. The feeding and waste cleaning techniques that were used in the early days of the industry improved and gave way to new procedures, along with higher degrees of professionalization and the adoption of international standards.
In the 1990s, growth was maintained and led to the internationalization of salmon production in Chile. Adoption of an industrial aquaculture model concentrated world production in Norway, Scotland and Chile. Chilean companies focused on seeking new consumer markets to bolster the main ones, the United States and Japan.

The industry experienced a significant downturn in 2007, when the ISA virus (Infectious Salmon Anemia) caused major changes: 60% of the farms stopped production and jobs were affected. However, following the ISA slump came the introduction of a new regulatory framework and an important recovery cycle. The crisis had provided an opportunity to take risks and learn about innovation and safe practices to improve productivity.