The full story
A USD 4,000 million aquaculture farming industry
Since the 1970’s, Chilean marine aquaculture numbers has accounted for 12% of global production. Now the third largest producer in the world, the aquaculture industry in Chile is responsible for nearly 60,000 employees and is valued at over 4,000 million USD a year – putting it just a notch under the copper mining industry, making up 4% of national export figures.
The main farming species is Salmo salar – the Atlantic Salmon – which represents 60-70% of national production in 1,500 farms stretching across the southernmost regions of Chile, right within the Patagonian Fjord Ecosystem.
Disease outbreaks – a massive threat to the economy
With these precedents, it is clear that any potential threats to the vast Salmo salar farming industry, such as disease and virus outbreaks, is an issue of top priority.
The Infectious Salmon Anemia virus, also known as ISA, is a standing hazard within the industry. Since it first broke in Chilean waters in 2007, it has been the main reason of production loss and as a result, a danger to local and regional economy.
Besides the threat to the economy, previously-relaxed regulations that favoured growth and gain, with secondary regard to environmental sustainability meant that the flourishing industry has been enjoying growth at the expense of environmental welfare.
Protecting the economy while preserving the natural resources of Chilean Seas
Because of the above challenges, the Chilean Government, through the Ministry for Fisheries and Aquaculture (Subpesca), decided to step in to regulate the industry. They intend to do this by enhancing the knowledge of aquatic environments that will eventually allow a sustainable long-term production of aquaculture while protecting the natural resources of Chilean Seas
The IFOP – a non-profit institution whose vision is to be recognised as the guarantor and technical referent in fisheries and aquaculture research applied to the sustainable use of aquatic resources and their environment – was tasked with this challenge.
Using numerical modelling to derive tools for setting new laws and regulations
To achieve the goals set by Subpesca, IFOP carries out field observations which offer an insight into the environmental conditions. Using these observations, numerical modelling is then conducted to derive a range of tools and applications for setting new laws and regulations for the industry. Within the several projects that contribute to the knowledge in aquaculture, three research lines make use of MIKE Powered by DHI software, namely MIKE 3 (in particular the Particle Tracking module) and ECO Lab.
A biogeochemical ECO Lab model is coupled with a MIKE 3 model to determine the optimal aquaculture farming volume that the environment is able to sustain. Through this, IFOP is also able to assess the impacts of farming on the environment.
ECO Lab is likewise used to gain an understanding of the distribution and concentration patterns of harm algae like Alexandriumcatanella. This will shed light on environmental bloom risk factors like temperature, nutrient levels, degree of sunlight, water stability, turbidity and so on.
Apart from the modelling achieved with MIKE 3 and ECO Lab, ‘Particle Tracking’ models (which are decoupled from MIKE 3) allows IFOP to estimate water mass transport and eventual patterns of disease outbreaks
The successful technology transfer has helped Chile’s aquaculture industry tremendously.
Ability to balance high-volume, long-term production with environmental sustainability
With the understanding of optimal production loads for the farms, IFOP is able to assess the impacts of aquaculture farming on the environment, guaranteeing high-volume, long-term production while protecting natural resources.
Swift control of disease outbreaks
The knowledge gained from using DHI’s technology will establish the basis of developing tools for swift response in the beginning stage of an outbreak. In this way, Chile is able to reorder the distribution of salmon farms in a way that helps to mitigate existing outbreaks and prevent further spreading.
Better understanding of harmful algae bloom risk factors
Also known as red tide (where the amount of algae is so significant that they discolour coastal waters), harmful algae blooms are detrimental to aquaculture farming. Algae blooms use up oxygen in the waters and may release toxins that cause illnesses in humans and marine animals. IFOP is now able to determine environmental bloom risk factors and keep them at bay