23 Million Farmed Fish Die as Chile Battles Warming Ocean and Algal Blooms

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23 Million Farmed Fish Die as Chile Battles Warming Ocean and Algal Blooms

Nearly 23 million farmed fish have died in Chile due to deadly algal blooms. The deaths will cost the nation's producers of Atlantic salmon, Coho, and trout an estimated $800 million in losses.

“There are so many dead fish, they could easily fill 14 Olympic-size swimming pools,” Chile’s Jose Miguel Burgos, the head of the government's Sernapesca fisheries body, told Reuters of the mass deaths.

The algal blooms are the result of increasing ocean temperatures, a side effect of El Niño and increasing global temperatures. The fish deaths have hit 37 out of close to 415 ocean-based fish farms in southern Chile, and the industry fears there will be more deaths.

"Temperatures are 2 to 4 degrees (Celsius) above average for this time of the year, there's a lot of sunlight, a lack of rain and very mild winds, all of which are conditions for the micro algae to appear," Burgos told Reuters. "The loss is likely equivalent to somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of Chile's total production for the year ... the forecast for 2016 was around 750,000 to 760,000 tonnes but now that's reduced to around 650,000 tonnes."

But changing ocean temperatures alone may not be the sole culprit in the increase in algal blooms. Liesbeth van der Meer, who heads the Oceana environmental group in Chile, told Reuters that the growing number of livestock operations near the fish farms are leaching too much nitrogen into the oceans. When the nitrogen runoff mixes with the higher ocean temperatures, it’s a prime environment for algal blooms.

And that’s not all that’s plaguing Chilean fish farmers. “The latest blow to the local industry comes as Chile's salmon farmers are using record levels of antibiotics to treat a virulent and pervasive bacteria,” reports Reuters. The use of antibiotics has already cost Chile's fish industry some of its U.S. customers.

Chile is the world’s second largest salmon producer after Norway. In 2015 it exported $4.5 billion worth of farmed salmon.

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fish farming image via Shutterstock

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