Chile's environmental regulator to sanction salmon companies

A pool containing dead salmon is seen at a salmon production plant which was damaged by lahar from Calbuco Volcano at Correntoso near Chamiza, April 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s environmental regulator said on Tuesday that it started a sanctioning process against the local units of two salmon companies, Australis Seafoods and AquaChile, for their handling of a deadly algal bloom.

The SMA regulator said it was sanctioning the firms for committing “grave” infractions after it detected “noncompliance with their contingency plans for massive fish moralities” which occurred during algal blooms that spanned February to May.

After a “red tide” algal bloom killed all the biomass at two salmon farms operated by AquaChile and one owned by Australis in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region, the companies improperly disposed of the dead fish, the SMA said.

“In the three cultivating areas, dead fish were kept in a water column for more than 20 consecutive days, which can produce negative effects such as damages to the cultivating framework, dissemination of decomposing organic material and the generation of sulfuric acid,” the SMA said.

This “can in turn influence the marine well as people that are in contact with it - such as workers who labor there,” it added.

AquaChile did not have immediate comment, and Australis could not be immediately reached for comment.

Both companies have 10 days to present a compliance plan and 15 days to present challenges to the charges.

The algal bloom earlier this year killed millions of fish, devastating the world’s second biggest salmon exporter and bringing losses of upwards of $800 million.

Thousands of local fishermen blamed the salmon industry for a posterior algal bloom, which further decimated local marine life and endangered their livelihoods, after they dumped the dead and decaying salmon into the Pacific Ocean.

Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Gram Slattery; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Alistair Bell