Chile has made a come back after the effects of El Nino. Pilar Santamaria reports - Chile is among the top fishing countries in the world. With 5.500 km of coastline, currently it is the fifth country in the world in terms of fish landings, according to the last FAO ranking (2000).

For many years catches rose to between seven and eight million tonnes in Chile, but these figures starting to decline as consequence of prohibition established by the government and the effects of El Nino.

The total landing until December 2001 reached 4.17 m tonnes, which is 25.5% lower than the average between 1996-2000 and 16.1% lower than the total catch in 2000.

Main captures are the pelagic species representing 76.3% of total catches. Among them, major resources are the horse mackerel, the anchovy, the mackerel and the common sardine.

The demersal family includes southern hake, golden kingclip, sea bass, common hake, nylon shrimp and yellow prawn.

Extractive fishing in Chile is divided in industrial fishing and artisanal fishing. Most of the catches correspond to the first group with a fleet of 428 vessels and landing the 70.5 % of the total fishing during 2000.

All vessels fishing in Chile's EEZ waters needs to be registered with the country, and although foreign fishing companies can established in the state, they must have a local partner with majority of Chilean investments.

State of the main fisheries

Main pelagic and demersal fisheries in the country are in a state of full exploitation and no more vessels are allow to catch in those fisheries units. This is due principally to the overexploitation between the 1960's and the mid 1980's when the government established regulations to access the fisheries.

In 1991 the General Law of Fisheries and Aquaculture was established to regulate the different states of the fisheries. In addition, since February 2001, many vessels have been subject to Maximum Catch Limits. This administrative measure is a transitory Law for a two year period. It consists in an individual quotas system, distributing the global annual catch quota assigned to the industrial sector for the fishery unit, among the ship owners that have vessels authorised to undertake extractive fishing activities.

Currently, the fully exploited species under Maximum Catch Limit are mackerel, sardine, anchovy, common sardine, hoki, southern hake, golden kingpling, southern blue whiting, chilean hake, chilean nylon shrimp, and yellow and red prawn.

This system could continue in a future if the new law of fisheries is approved.

According to governmental experts, this system has helped to bring order and improve profits guaranteeing the regularity of the industry.

Under the previous system, ship owners tried to catch before others did the annual quota, causing an early draining of the resources. On the other hand, there was a worst use of the catches and instability in the jobs.

However, and according to what was said during the international conference Fisheries Administrations Based on Right Used held last month in Chile, the country needs to make structural changes before implementing new ways of working.

It is necessary to lower the unemployment and arrange the division between the artisanal and industrial sectors, assuring proper representation for each sector.

Today, a common hake industrial operator has the same quota as more than 5,000 artisanal fishermen.

Economic Role

The fishing sector in Chile represents 1.5 % of the working population providing 100,000 jobs, and it contributes around 2.8% to the GPD.

Last year, fishing sector led the country's economic growth, increasing its production from 2000 to 2001 by 12.2 %.

This growth is mainly due to the volumes produced by the salmon industry.

Approximately 90% of the fishing production in Chile goes to export market. Exports in the fishing sector represent approximately the 11% of Chilean total exports. The turnovers from international trade reached until November 2001 US$ 1707 million showing a decrease in 0.2% in relation to the same period in the year before, due principally to a decline in the value of fresh cooled (second highest export), tinned fish, agar agar and oil.Main revenues from Chile's export are due to frozen fish, fresh cooled, fishmeal and tinned fish. The two first items come principally from salmon meanwhile fish meal, whose Chile is one of the main supplier worldwide, is obtained from pelagic resources.

This year, industrial fishermen have predict a Chilean fishmeal production of between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes, equalling 2001 production, according to Luis Felipe Moncada, manager of the Association of Industrial Fishermen of the Bio Bio Region (Aispes).

He said that 80% of the quantity of fishmeal is staying in the country and being use by the aquaculture industry and only 20% is being exported.

Before the most recent El Nino, Chile's production of fishmeal peaked at 1.2 tonnes due to the large amounts of fish that were landing every year.

In relation to the export markets, most Chilean fishery products are sold to Japan (33.8 %), USA (25.8%) and Spain (5.2%).

However, meanwhile the two first countries show a decrease in the value, Spain reveals an increase, as compare as the same period in November 2000.


The Fishery Undersecretary, maximum fishery authority inside the Ministry of Economy and Foment, establishes the global annual catch quotas basing on the reports provided by the Institute of Fishery Fament (IFOP). The researches are financed by the advance payments of fishing patent. The Government receives money from the patents and from the public auctions, method applied to assign quotas in fisheries under recovery and incipient system.

In these regimes of fisheries, it is sell at auction the right to catch every year, the equivalent in tons, of ten per cent of the annual global catch quotas.

The body in charge for the quotas being respected is the Fishing National Service (Sernapesca).

Main Ports

Chile is administratively divided in 12 regions, besides the Metropolitan region with Santiago. Each of these regions has a main port, being especially important for the salmon industry Port Montt in the X Region meanwhile San Vicente-Talcahuano in the VIII Region is an important port for extractive fishing landing. In the North area is Iquique.

The main ports for exports are San Antonio and Valparaiso, both in the V Region.


Aquaculture has quickly become one of the most dynamic and prosperous activities in Chile. For twenty years, fish farming has developed at a fast state and has become one of the fishing sectors most important industries.

The main area of cultivation is salmon although the Chilean fish farming industry also produces molluscs, bivalves and seaweeds in a lower level.

Since the start of the country's first salmon farms in 1986, Chile has become the second exporter of Salmon in the world, behind Norway.

At the beginning, production was focused on trout and Coho salmon. However, the necessity of harvest during the entire year urging the expansion of Atlantic Salmon, which become the main specie produced, representing the 46% during the year 2000.

Chilean salmon farming is an example on how natural endowments as water temperature, fluctuating between seven and 16 ºC during winter and summer months, combined with managerial ingenuity and private investment can build a booming export industry.

The growth of Chilean salmoniculture has no precedents in the world and just after one and a half decades, the salmon industry represents 5.5 % of Chilean total exports and more of the 50 % of fishing sector exports, with a growing rate of 24% between 1991 and 2000.

The figures show an increase in salmon exports from US$ 265 millions in the 90's to US$ 964 millions in the year 2001. In addition, it is Chile's forth highest export providing 24,800 jobs, principally in the austral region where most salmon farms are established.

However and despite the expansion of the salmon industry, last year exports of salmon and trout fell 0.9 per cent compared to year 2000.

According to Salmon and Trout Producers Association of Chile, this decrease is due to a decline in the salmon prices during the second part of the year. Meanwhile the turnover from salmon exports decreased in ten millions last year as compared in year 2000, the volume exported increased in 46%.

This situation was provoked for an exceed in worldwide production of salmon that increased the offer over the demand. In addition, the international crisis affected to the main markets of Chilean Salmon: Japan for frozen salmon and USA, importer of fresh fish.

This showed that salmon industry was not ready for variations in the market and after 15 years concentrating on increasing production, there are new challenges ahead.

Companies have been changing their original growth plans to recover offer and demand. Some measures as reduction in harvesting size, elimination of small fish and less biomass for next season are already being introduced.In order to avoid similar situations in the future, The Fishing National Service is working in a project to predict the offer through the knowledge of the biomass amount in the fish farms.

New challenges for aquaculture

Although Chile is at the moment the first export country of salmon with value added (60%), salmon farmers must diversify their products to become more productive, reduce offer to traditional markets and improve quality mix in those markets.

In addition, Chilean industry had faced problems of a small, under-developed infrastructure, poor education among the people and remoteness from markets. "Today the private companies have to invest more to prepare the personnel and make a big effort to reach the markets", according to Victor Hugo Puchi, President of the Salmon and Trout Producers Association.Chile farming also works to open up financial sources in other parts in the world, since the availability of capital has been limited with banks taking a short-term view. It is important for the industry to penetrate new markets due to salmon production relies in export. Currently, the government is negotiating free trade agreement with the EU and USA.

In general, aquaculture in the country needs to develop investigations in several species besides salmon with still very large areas available to farms.

In this sense, it is important to indicate the increase of the pectiniculture during 2001, with turnovers rising more than US$ 26 millions, 38,4 % more than the year before.

There are around 580 aquaculture licences at the moment in Chile.

Unlikely in other fishing sectors, where companies must have majority of Chilean capitals, farming activities can be constituted by 100% foreign invests. During the last three years many overseas companies have established in Chile, especially Norway groups, though there are also important Spanish and Japanese investments. In total, 36% of the salmon and trout exported by Chile is in foreign hands.


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