Chilean salmon farmers reveal unique alliance to cut antibiotics in aquaculture

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Aerial salmon farms at Reloncavi marine strait at Llanquihue National Park, Chile, South America. Image: Getty/aurquijofilms
Aerial salmon farms at Reloncavi marine strait at Llanquihue National Park, Chile, South America. Image: Getty/aurquijofilms

Related tags acquaculture fish farming

A precompetitive initiative working towards the implementation of new solutions to prevent bacterial diseases and reduce the use of antibiotics has been announced in Chile.

Project Yelcho is described as an unprecedented public-private collaboration aiming to accelerate the implementation of vaccines and reduce the use of antibiotics.

Chile has quickly become the world's second-largest producer of farmed salmon behind Norway. Salmon farming has become one of Chile's top exports, boosting the economy and jobs, though it has created friction with environmental and indigenous group who complain the industry’s rapid expansion is at the expense of the landscape and economy of Chilean Patagonia, where much of the production is based. These groups have regularly complained that escaped farmed salmon, pollution, disease, and habitat destruction have threatened native species and ecosystems, especially in protected areas.

Using cooperation to devlop new knowledge, expectations, standards

Yelcho is an unprecedented collaboration between the salmon-producing powerhouses of Chile: Aquachile, Australis Mar, Blumar, Camanchaca, Cermaq, Cultivos Yadran, Marine Farm, Mowi, Multi X, Salmones Austral, and Ventisqueros. Together, this group of companies produce almost 90% of the Atlantic salmon of Chile. Yelcho unities salmon producers with industry associations and regulatory authorities, with the goal of reducing antibiotic use.

Immediate upcoming activities for Project Yelcho include initiating a Technical-Scientific Committee working group, which will be made up of a multidisciplinary team of renowned scientists including Dr Alexis Kalergis, Director of the Millennium Institute on Immunology and Immunotherapy, and the technical counterparts of SAG and Sernapesca.

Project Yelcho marks an ‘unprecedented’ commitment from the Chilean salmon farming industry to a new way of working with the pharmaceutical industry and other sectors it supplies that prioritises innovation and the development of solutions for common bacterial diseases,

Eleven leading Chilean salmon farming companies have joined forces to launch the project. Also on board are the Salmon Council and Chile’s Salmon Technological Institute (Intesal). It is also supported by Aquabench, a company that provides support and analysis services to the Chilean salmon farming industry.

First initiated in 2023, Yelcho is inspired by Chile’s COVID-19 strategy. Yelcho aims to work closely together with pharmaceutical companies to develop solutions for common bacterial diseases, including Salmon Rickettsial Syndrome (SRS). Since the companies started collaborating last year under the Yelcho name, they have been working closely with pharmaceutical companies to identify prospective areas for collaboration, with upcoming partnerships to be announced.

“Yelcho is a milestone moment in the Chilean industry’s commitment to working towards the reduction of antibiotic use, in line with the World Health Organization’s antimicrobial resistance plan,” said David Farcas, Director of Yelcho. “Antibiotics can help prevent the spread of a disease and maintain fish welfare, but we recognize the need to reduce their use significantly,” he added.

“The positive response we have received from the pharmaceutical industry to date shows that with the right environment, there is real drive to help seek out innovative solutions to reduce the Chilean salmon farming industry’s use of antibiotics.”

Further boosting its efforts, Yelcho recently signed a formal collaboration agreement with Chile’s Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG) and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca), which aims to further facilitate the advancement of innovation and greater technical collaboration between authorities and the private sector.

“This is the first public–private collaboration of its kind to catalyse innovation in our industry, and the involvement of SAG and Sernapesca in Yelcho is hugely significant,” said Esteban Ramírez, General Manager of Intesal. “The whole point of Yelcho is to create an environment in which innovation can flourish, and having the involvement of the two main governmental institutions that regulate the use of pharmaceutical treatments will undoubtedly add huge value to Yelcho.”

Loreto Seguel, Executive Director of the Salmon Council, added: “This signing is evidence that we have managed to unite the industry in an unprecedented public–private alliance. This project materialises a commitment to the continuous improvement of the standards with which we produce salmon in Chile.

“We are proud to sign this agreement that not only values the aquaculture industry, but also validates us from a scientific perspective as companies that are permanently looking for ways to neutralize impacts and firmly project the industry. With this signature, we ratify our commitment to and conviction for a sustainable industry from an environmental, social, and economic point of view.”

Yelcho will also continue to work closely with pharmaceutical company contacts—both existing and new—to identify further partnership opportunities, with the group open to initiating conversations with any pharmaceutical organisation interested in Yelcho’s aims.

Related topics Sustainability

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