Mowi Chile said it plans to mount a legal challenge against a record $6.7 million (€5.7 million) fine imposed by the south American nation’s environmental superintendency (SMA).
The CLP 5.3 billion fine in local currency is in connection to a mass escape in July 2018 from the Punta Redonda production site in the southern Los Lagos region following unusual weather conditions.
Ten cages collapsed at the site in one of the largest Atlantic salmon escapes recorded, allowing 690,277 fish to break free.
The cost of the escape to Marine Harvest was estimated at $3.4 million (€2.9 million).
SMA hit the salmon farmer the with fine, citing irreparable environmental damage. It said the company had failed to maintain appropriate safety conditions and that equipment was of an insufficiently high standard at its Punta Redonda production site.
“We want to send the signal that all those companies that do not respect the regulations and, in addition, infringe them causing environmental damage, as in this case, will be sanctioned in a proportional way, ” SMA Superintendent Christobal De La Maza said.
In response, Mowi said it fully complied with the regulations applied to its operations and highlighted that an official investigation into the accident concluded there is no history that revealed a fault or omission on the part of the company, which was later confirmed in court.
It also highlighted that it was acquitted by regional health authorities on charges that the escape caused a risk to public health.
“Mowi Chile reiterates, once again, its firm conviction that the accident, as well as the escape of fish, did not generate environmental damage. The SMA resolution is based exclusively on a legal presumption that has no scientific basis,” the company said.
The company said it is public knowledge that a large quantity of salmon was caught by third parties and later sold en masse in the informal trade, a fact that unfortunately was not considered by the authorities.
Mowi insists it made every effort to recapture the fish, in addition to recovery efforts made by the informal fishing sector.
The fine comes as Chilean authorities launch a crackdown on escapes and environmental issues linked to salmon farms in the country.
Salmon growout sites in Chile have been ordered to put in place continuous and online monitoring systems and cages and their structures will now have undergo checks to show they are not in danger of sinking.
Blumar has been ordered to hand authorities an urgent action plan in case 2,900 metric tons of dead fish trapped in the wreckage of a sunken production site starts to affect the environment in Chile’s Los Lagos region.
It is estimated that 771,405 fish died when 16 cages sank after stormy weather battered the site in late June this year, while around 104,000 salmon escaped from two other damaged cages.