Tierra del Fuego, Argentina’s southernmost province, has unanimously approved a bill banning salmon farming in open-net pens, considering it a threat to its economy and the environment.
The bill, presented by provincial deputy Pablo Villegas (Movimiento Popular Fueguino), essentially makes Argentina the first country to pronounce itself against the intensive fishing industry practice, given that the Beagle Channel is the only area in which such farming takes place.
"I think it’s important to point out that the message is clear: if we work with our head and heart, with conviction, commitment, passion, and responsibility, that translates into achievements. Saying no to salmon farms is possible," said Villegas, hailing the news.
The prohibition covers the maritime jurisdictions and lakes of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and the South Atlantic Islands — a province of around 175,000 inhabitants — authorising only the cultivation and stocking of trout to promote sports fishing, a touristic and non-industrial attraction of the area.
Salmon farming is the intensive farming and harvesting of salmonids, under controlled conditions, for commercial purposes. In this type of production, salmon are fattened in "floating cages'' usually located in bays and fjords along the coasts — a technique first conceived in Norway during the late 1960s that grew exponentially in the last decades.
"Salmon farming would have represented a threat to the province's economy, since in Ushuaia half of the families depend on tourism, an activity that could not coexist with the environmental impact of the industry,” said David López Katz, a member of the Sin Azul No Hay Verde (“Without Blue There Is No Green”) campaign of the Rewilding Argentina NGO.
"This law is an example of caring for a sustainable economic and productive model, which respects cultural traditions and artisan practices that generate genuine jobs," he added.
The global environmental organisation Greenpeace also celebrated the decision, stating: "Today, Ushuaia [the provincial capital of Tierra del Fuego] is protected from a harmful industry that has caused serious damage to the Chilean fjords and has seriously impacted local communities for decades.”
‘More aggressive than mining’
Facing social rejection in the main producing countries and several scandals related to the lack of transparency, fish escapes and mortalities, and the improper use of antibiotics, Norway saw an opportunity to set up in Tierra del Fuego in the pristine waters of the Beagle Channel, signing an agreement in 2019 with the provincial government at the time.
One of the visible faces of the campaign for its ban was the local chef Lino Adillón, an emblem of the defence of the natural resources of the province who stopped offering salmon in his restaurant years ago.
“The industry is as or more aggressive than mining," says Adillón, who asserts that there are "products such as sea bass, silverside, pollock, sardines, cojinova and toothfish that can supplement salmon."
At the beginning of April in Chile — the world's second-largest producer of salmon — the death of some 5,000 tons of salmon was reported due to the appearance of harmful algal blooms, a phenomenon that causes the reduction of oxygen in the water and thereby suffocation of the fish.
This has already occurred in growing centres that are expanding in the regions of Los Lagos and Aysén in southern Chile.
This episode rekindled fears on the Argentine side of the border, where environmental activists carried out an action to raise awareness about the problem.
Tierra del Fuego inhabitants joined neighbouring Chilean communities, various environmental organisations, and the outdoor apparel brand Patagonia (well known for its environmental activism initiatives) to raise their voices through different kind of actions and demonstrations.
The number of coastal communities questioning this industry grows steadily. In the United States, Canada, Scotland, Iceland, Tasmania and even in Norway, local communities are often opposed to the installation of cages, and although they have long sought to remove them from their fjords and channels, this is the first time that a country or region has banned the industry before it is settled.