Chile Table of Contents
The cold waters of South America's western coast are rich in fish and contain a wide variety of shellfish. For instance, about 800 varieties of mollusks are found there, including the largest abalones and edible sea urchins in the world. Some species, such as the abalones, had been depleted to the point that they could not be harvested legally. About 750 kilometers from the mainland, the waters surrounding the Islas Juan Fernández are much warmer and contain different types of fish and shellfish, including lobster.
Fishing expanded rapidly starting in the late 1970s. By 1983 Chile was ranked fifth in the world in catch tonnage and had become the world's leading exporter of fish meal. Despite naturally caused year-to-year variations, the volume of the total fish catch had increased over the long term. For example, in 1970 the total catch was 1.2 million tons, but the figures increased to 2.9 million tons in 1980 and 6.3 million tons in 1989. The total catch was about 5.4 million tons in 1990 according to Central Bank data. Total fish caught in 1991, reached 6 million tons, and fishing exports totaled US$1.1 billion, up 21 percent from 1990 and 138 percent from 1985 (see table 28, Appendix). Of the 1991 figure, fish meal accounted for US$466 million. Fish exports rose to 6.5 million tons in 1992.
Salmon production was expected to reach 46,000 tons in 1992, earning about US$250 million and turning the country into the third largest producer in the world (after Norway and Canada). Starting with fifty-three tons in 1981, the explosive growth in salmon production and exports reflected the combination of perfect natural conditions for its cultivation in the south with the successful adaptation of modern technology.
By the early 1990s, a lack of fishing regulations was threatening some species and giving the large fishing fleets advantages over the smaller-scale, traditional fishermen who use small boats. After long debate, Congress approved the new General Fishing Law in July 1991. The law's purpose was to encourage investment in commercial fishing by ensuring the conservation of hydrobiological resources, by protecting against overfishing, by reserving for traditional fishermen an exclusive eight-kilometer strip of coastal waters, and by promoting fishing research. The infrastructure plan also included providing resources for developing large and small ports for industrial and traditional fishing. Total output of industrialized fish products was expected to increase significantly with new investments during the 1990s. Both the good catches in the 1989-91 period and the openness of the regulations had prompted Chilean companies to invest a total of US$100 million and to build nearly twenty boats.
Data as of March 1994