Depending on how you view things, Chile’s salmon sector is either amazingly robust or alarmingly cursed.
Let’s just review a few of the industry-rattling events over the past several years that have reshaped Chile. Perhaps the most redefining of all events – the Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) crisis – began in 2007. The fallout from the outbreak lasted over two years, and estimated losses to the sector were between $1 billion and $2 billion (€898 million-$1.8 billion). An estimated 64 percent of the biomass was lost because of the disease.
In 2016, an algal bloom crisis caused mortalities equivalent to 100,000 metric tons of the projected production, around 17 percent of the country’s projected output, and 7 percent in global production terms.
Presently, we are watching yet another crisis unfold in the world’s second-largest salmon farming country. Weeks of civil unrest has resulted in supply chain interruptions for product heading from Chile to major markets in the United States and elsewhere. As with the country’s other salmon farming crises, this current one will also pass, and supply lines will get back to normal -- at some point.
But will there be residual damage to the psyches of salmon buyers, who can’t today absorb these supply shortages as well as in the past, given the growing popularity of salmon among consumers? You simply can’t run out of the food people buy regularly – that’s an unconditional rule of retailing.
I certainly don’t believe buyers will run away in droves from Chile in light of yet another crisis in the country. They don’t really have anywhere to run, at least not in the volumes they need. It’s not as if another nation can jump in and fill the production supplied by Chile, no matter how much Norway, the Faroes, Canada or Scotland shift.
Nevertheless, this latest crisis continues to contribute to the narrative that buying farmed salmon from Chile can be an unstable affair. Although the country has done massive work over the past several years to overhaul its production to prevent – as much as possible – a repeat of the ISA outbreak or the algal bloom, and has worked hard to limit the use of antibiotics in its production, there remains in buyers’ minds the lingering doubt about Chile’s dependability.
I can’t say I believe Chile’s salmon sector is cursed; despite how it feels, Chile, which began salmon farming in 1974, has only been raising salmon in any significant amounts since the early ‘90s. It’s a young industry, in other words, and its rapid growth inevitably has led to problems.
I believe in Chile’s robustness, in its ability to weather the storms, in its desire to aspire to become the model of salmon farming. Will buyers continue to believe the same?
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