Norway cleans up in Chile

Norway cleans up in Chile One of the fleet of Fenix vessels deploying an MPI net cleaning robot. Photo: Fenix

Despite there being little in common, in terms of climate at least, between the cold Atlantic coast of Norway and the heat of Chile, the countries do share one major interest – salmon farming on a huge scale to meet an ever-growing global demand for fish.

With annual salmon sales in excess US$3.5 billion (€3.1 billion), Chile is the world’s second-largest producer of Atlantic salmon (average weight +5kg and a production cycle of approximately 18 months) after Norway, and Chilean salmon is sold in all of the international markets with top export destinations including United States (which imports more than 90% of its seafood), Japan, Russia and Brazil.

Chile is also a major producer of Coho salmon and trout, which are reared in square steel framed cages traditionally 30m x 30m and 40m x 40m (cage nets varying in both dimension and material), bolted together to form groups of cages upwards of 12 per site.

Providing employment for some 70,000 people, Chile’s salmon farming industry is key to the country’s economy, the importance of which was emphasised in 2016 when the Chilean Government and the national aquaculture industry launched a joint co-operation to reduce the amount of antibiotics used in salmon farming.

This co-operation was marked by the announcement of a US$58 million (€51.9 million) package, dubbed the Pincoy salmon industry initiative, designed to cut the amount of antibiotics its aquaculture industry uses in raising salmon by 50%.

With the need to increase quality standards, along with productivity, salmon farmers began looking more closely at countries like Norway which set the benchmark in terms of attaining maximum standards of fish quality, hygiene and general farm management.

One of the biggest problems facing Chile is that growth rates of marine fouling in Chile’s nutrient-rich ocean is far greater than is found in northern hemisphere, so it became crucial to adhere to a structured cleaning programme taking into account logistics such as travel time, crew changes, fuel maintenance, and extreme weather conditions.

Historically, net coatings had been used extensively throughout the industry to reduce growth attaching to nets, applied in paint form, and the nets are dried and installed on site with an extended period free from marine growth attaching to the nets. The period without attachment was varied and site specific – all-in-all an expensive and non-environmentally friendly process.

As was the case in most of Europe less than twenty years ago and still the case in Chile up until quite recently, the cleaning of fish cages and the physical removal of cages to land-based washing plants means a major cleaning operation which was not only laborious and time consuming but also very expensive.

Alternatively, if a Chilean fish farmer considered adopting the practice of cleaning nets on site, the logistical challenges associated with sending cleaning equipment and crews to very remote locations in Southern Chile could also result in excessive costs.

But to address this problem, Fenix was established in Puerto Montt in 2016 with an aim of providing the latest cleaning technologies available net cleaning services to the Chilean salmon farming industry.

Cage cleaning

Fenix looked at a way for farmers to be able to clean their cages on site and without requiring to take the cage from the water – removing the need to change nets and transport them by land and sea to cleaning stations many miles away – an issue which was probably one of the biggest reasons that Chilean aquaculture companies have now adopted the ​efficient alternative cleaning service provided by Fenix.

The rise in demand for the Fenix cleaning service came about as a result of a co-operation formed between themselves and MPI (Multi Pump Innovation) in Norway who recommended that Fenix personnel should attend a training seminar at their head office in Oslo to understand more about the various equipment packages available, speak to existing MPI clients and identify the right product to go forward into the Chilean market.

MPI develops and manufactures net cleaning systems for the international aquaculture industry, including the supply of more than 700 net cleaning systems worldwide.

The top of the MPI product range is the Racemaster 3.0 – the cleaner that has followed in the footsteps of the first-generation Terminator net cleaning system and the second generation RONC – remotely operated net cleaner.

With this new technology now at their disposal, Fenix purchased a 300/Volvo canopy and a seven-disc cleaning head (RONC 7) and had it shipped to Chile where it was installed on a vessel and commissioned by MPI personnel alongside Fenix operatives.

Initially Fenix began cleaning sites close to its operational base in Puerto Montt and, with the very positive feedback from customers relating to the quality and efficiency of the cleaning, it was decided between MPI Norway and Fenix to create a closer working co-operation focused on providing more equipment to meet customer demand and to provide the potential client base with extra confidence.

Fenix now operates a fleet of 13 vessels with various on-board cleaning configurations to support its Chilean client base and is currently providing on site cleaning services in all of the major production areas in Chile X, XI and XII regions and, in less than two years of operation, Fenix has grown to now employ 12 administration personnel, three maintenance technicians, 62 operators and assistants with a further 72 external support personnel working on board their service vessels.

Now with the capability to cleaning nets ranging from steel and copper mesh to polyester polyethylene and nylon materials, Fenix uses MPI’s Ronc and Racemaster remotely operated cleaning units which can offer solutions for all net types and environmental conditions.

Technology leads to results

The MPI technology has brought a new world to the Chilean aquaculture industry and, says Fenix CEO Rodrigo Fuenzalida Petermann, a much-improved standard of fish cage cleanliness for their clients’ fish farms.

“By keeping nets cleaned in situ with MPI equipment on a permanent basis and without the need to apply any chemical cleaning treatment is beneficial for our customers, consumers and of course, for our oceans,” he said, adding that for this reason, Fenix production staff liaise permanently with their client’s production and net management teams to maximise efficiency and ensure that down time is kept to a minimum.

Establishing a sales and support infrastructure for products manufactured on the other side of the world is not the easiest task to achieve 100% customer satisfaction, Rodrigo Fuenzalida Petermann explained, but added that as demand in equipment supply has increased, MPI Norway have made every effort to maintain sufficient levels of spare parts and support services in setting up a Chilean office in Puerto Montt with technicians providing technical support as required.

“As our company has grown and our experience operating the equipment has improved, we have found that the systems are capable of both withstanding the rigorous and harsh marine environments and enable our operators to deliver the required volume of clean nets by the end of every month,” he said.

“We are working together with most producers to deliver cost efficient cleaning solutions, maintaining maximum flow of natural oxygenated seawater within the cage environment improving both production and fish health.”

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