Chile, #1 US salmon supplier, increased antibiotics use by 34%
Chile is the largest supplier of farmed Atlantic salmon to the US, providing well over half of all fish to America’s supermarkets.
So far this year, US imports of Chilean fresh and frozen whole salmon and fillets total 118 million pounds, valued at nearly $685 million. That cost will easily go into the billions by year’s end.
A new report shows that Chile’s salmon farmers increased their use of antibiotics last year to levels not seen since 2017, according to SeafoodSource, citing information from the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca).
Chile’s salmon farmers used 463.4 metric tons (MT) of antimicrobials on 985,958 MT of harvested fish in 2021, leading to an antibiotic consumption index (ACI, or amount of active ingredient used divided by the harvest of salmonids times 100) of 0.047 percent. Until last year, antibiotic use had been steadily falling since 2015, when ACI reached 0.063 percent.
Sernapesca blamed the increased usage on the Covid pandemic, saying it “ generated logistical complications in companies that resulted in delays in harvesting and processing times, which led to the extension of production cycles, prolonging the exposure of greater biomass to pathogens,” Sernapesca Deputy Director of Aquaculture Marcela Lara said. “In addition, harmful algal bloom events occurred in the regions during 2021, which adds a stressor that affects the immune response of fish, producing an increase in the incidence of treatments against piscirickettsiosis.”
Chile’s salmon trade groups were quick to react to the unfavorable news. SeafoodSource reported that the Salmon Council, companies that comprise more than 50 percent of national production – said that while antibiotics use increased 34 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year, the trend is still decreasing when considered over a longer period of time. Levels in 2021 decreased 25 percent when compared to 2015, for example.
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Unlike salmon farming in the Northern Hemisphere, where fish diseases are mostly viral and are not treated with antibiotics, in Chile, there are oceanographic and biological conditions that favor septicemia rickettsial salmonídea (SRS), the council noted.
The bacteria is controlled with different preventive measures, with the use of antibiotics being the last recourse. Antibiotics are not used for preventive purposes, but only in response to the presence of disease.
Further, before being harvested, antibiotics use is suspended for a certain period of time to guarantee that it is eliminated from salmon tissues. Sample specimens are examined in laboratories to ensure food safety, it said.
Meanwhile, Norway – the world’s #2 farmed salmon producer – claims its fish are “completely antibiotics free,” according to the Norwegian Seafood Council.
“No residues of antibiotics, medicines or illegal substances have ever been found in Norwegian salmon and 99% of Norwegian farmed salmon were produced without any antibiotic treatments, according to annual studies by the Institute of Marine Research in Norway.