The Sea Bass into the Final Stretch

After a decade developing the Sea Bass Program, the purpose and real possibilities of establishing in Chile an industry that diversifies fish aquaculture and that incorporates the far north, is almost within reach.

The Sea Bass has shown high adaptation levels to different farming systems without requiring antibiotics or anti-parasite medications.

A baked fish, a ceviche, or sashimi in the near future could well be a Sea Bass grown in northern Chile. This is what institutions and companies that led by Fundación Chile, visualized in 2010, and have since taken part in the Sea Bass (Corvina) Program, one of the Chilean Aquaculture Diversification Programs (PDACH/CADPH) promoted by Corfo. This dream is starting to come true after three years from the completion of the Program.

The story however began much earlier, in 2006 to be precise, when Fundación Chile developed an experimental project to fatten specimens in raft cages in the bay of Tongoy. The promising results were decisive to consider our native Cilusgilberti as a priority within the species for national aquaculture.

Aiming to diversify the aquaculture production currently centered in salmonids and located at the far south, a group of native species -firm candidates for cultivation- was selected. And now, almost a decade after such determination, the Sea Bass has reaffirmed its status as a species in which an entire industry can be developed and based upon. This fact is confirmed by Fundación Chile, Universidad Arturo Prat (UNAP) and Pesquera Friosur, who have led the domestication process.

Complete Life Cycle

As he points out, “Another technological advance is that the raw material is reliable. The maintenance of a breeding stock and the production of juveniles is a technique that we have fairly dominated, and we can produce a considerable amount of specimens in a pilot plant, such as Tongoy, and from there, supply the raw material for a company.” He stresses that, “Although we do not have the capacity to produce a million juveniles, we do have the knowledge and the technique to reach that amount”.

Having the Sea Bass as a native species, has not only been a characteristic valued by the community, it has also helped the domestication process. “It being adapted to Chilean waters, presents no health issues, therefore it does not require antibiotics or antiparasitic treatments,” states the Program’s Director before adding that it is also a species that tolerates well oxygen losses that occur in Chile’s far northern areas. It also would be able to adapt to climate change, “Given its natural geographical distribution ranges from northern Peru to southern Chile. If tomorrow temperatures rise 2 degrees, they will not be affected”.

Iquique and Tongoy, Strategic Points

During the course of the Sea Bass Program, three farming systems have been tested: raft cages, recirculation, and open flow, which have been developed simultaneously in Iquique (under the supervision of UNAP) and in Fundación Chile’s Aquaculture Center in Tongoy. Despite the species proved to adapt to all three systems, the cost-efficiency factor ruled out the open-flow technology.

Avelino Muñoz, Director of Iquique’s sub-program (UNAP and Cordunap) where the culture in rafts is developed, insists in the benefits of developing this type of system with the Sea Bass. “Respecting the maximum amounts permissible in terms of farming systems load capacities and location of the facilities, not to repeat negative experiences occurred in the far south of our country, we see that there are great opportunities to carry forward an industry potentially friendly and sustainable with the environment, and that at the same time is economically sustainable”.

Regarding the challenges that have risen in the subprogram, Avelino Muñoz points out that “The main issues have emerged from carrying out an activity that does not exist in the area, such as fish aquaculture in rafts, and that, is one of the matters that need to be kept in mind when considering the future scaling of a Sea Bass industry or any other species.” However, he is confident that “The good results we are obtaining will generate interest both from potential growers and of goods and services suppliers for aquaculture, which currently operate mostly in the south of the country”.

Corvinas Without Borders

“Chile currently has a prominent position in global aquaculture thanks to salmon farming. The platform of skills and competences developed around the industry, passing through negative experiences that should not be repeated, is a basis in which to develop the cultivation of other species in different areas, keeping the country as an increasingly important supplier of seafood,” remarks Luis Pichott, aquaculture expert and currently Pesquera Friosur’s representative for the Corvina Program.

Luis Pichott sustains that, “Minding for its farming techniques, the Sea Bass could be an option to develop an attractive industry for the seas of our country’s far north and its residents.” He also considers interesting the alternative of cultivating the species on land, “Even though costs are currently a constraint, in time and the advancements of technology, it could be an attractive way to use land that has no other productive use”.

With a history of 30 years dealing with seafood, Pesquera Friosur is interested in diversifying its offer and has been an active participant in the Sea Bass Program. The market studies carried out by the company have detected opportunities both locally and internationally. “Our country does not show growth rates in fish consumption, however, it has shown growth rates in the substitution of wild native products for imported and/or cultivated. The increase in imports of tilapia and pangasius are good examples of this trend. The Sea Bass is a fish known and valued by Chileans, and even more by Peruvians. The price may be an issue, but not the existence or market interest for the Sea Bass”, is what Friosur’s expert stresses.

He adds that in 2011 there was a market study in nine cities of the world with high seafood consumption, such as Tokyo, Madrid, and Hong Kong. “There was not one single city that did not show interest in the product,” says Pichott.

After almost a decade of work, our purpose of scaling is already within reach. And, as Luis Pichott very well states, “Someday, sooner rather than later, there will be many others interested in doing what Friosur, Fundación Chile, and a group of companies and universities have for so long been trying to achieve”.

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