Four years since Chile’s salmon industry was decimated by the Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) virus, experts continue to speculate how the disease arrived to Chile in the first place.
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Norwegian Salmon Eggs (Likely) Cause for Chile's ISA
Agriculture in the News
Rachel Bickford, Agricultural Attaché
María José Herrera M., Marketing Specialist
Latest study carries implications for salmon farming worldwide.
Four years since Chile?s salmon industry was decimated by the Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) virus,
experts continue to speculate how the disease arrived to Chile in the first place. Only recently has
salmon?Chile?s third-largest export?returned to pre-ISA levels of production.
While there are a number of theories, Cermaq, a leading exporter of salmon from Chile, has recently
endorsed a study that concludes that ?the best explanation for the ISA virus in Chile? is transmission
from Norwegian salmon eggs. Previous studies have linked the ISA virus strain found in Chile to the
ISA virus strain previously found in Norway.
Norway is Chile?s largest competitor in the aquaculture business, but also a major trade partner and
investor for Chile?s salmon industry. Cermaq is one of many Norwegian companies operating in Chile.
The study, originally commission by Cermaq, has been mired in controversy since its publication in
2008, due to the potentially serious implications that it could have for the salmon industry.
Aqua Gen, a Norwegian company that breeds fish eggs and the principal supplier of salmon eggs to
Chile since 2006, filed a formal complaint against the study with Norway?s National Commission for
the Investigation of Scientific Misconduct in 2009, according to The New York Times. The commission
ruled on April 6 that the study?s authors were not guilty of scientific misconduct.
However, the implications of the study go beyond who might be responsible for initially introducing the
virus -which ultimately led to US$2 billion in damages, the loss of 50 percent of production, and the
loss of 26,000 jobs - to Chile. The study suggests that the virus can be transmitted through eggs, which
remains disputed among experts. A conclusion could affect the way that salmon eggs are regulated
Chile?s National Fishing Service (Sernapesca) has said that it does not necessarily support the findings
of the Cermaq study, but rather endorses the World Organization for Animal Health?s (OIE) conclusion
that there is insufficient evidence in favor of transmission through eggs, according to The New York
Nonetheless, Sernapesca responded to The New York Times via email, ?Since the start of the ISA
outbreak, Sernapesca incorporated regulations both for the importing of eggs and for the production of
eggs.? A new egg importation law took effect last year.
Even though the industry is recovering, ISA continues to haunt Chile.
The stock price of salmon companies has fallen almost 15 percent this month in response to suspicions
of a non-harmful strain of ISA at 23 aquaculture centers.
According to El Mercurio, the strain does not affect salmon mortality, growth or weight. No strain of
ISA is harmful to humans. And José Miguel Burgos, a government official in charge of aquaculture,
told El Mercurio, ?We have not detected any cases of the virulent strain of ISA.? Nonetheless, investors
The ISA outbreak was first discovered in the Los Lagos Region near Chiloe in mid-2007. The disease
spread throughout the region, which houses the lion?s share of the industry, as well as into Chile?s two
Salmon profits could also be affected in the long term.
Renewed salmon production has led to decreased international prices for the commodity. With the
predicted increase in production coming from Chile, officials expect the low prices are here to stay.
Recent sanitary regulations in Chile, implemented to avoid future ISA outbreaks, will also be costly to
implement and will likely impact profits, officials say.