Chile’s fishermen are angry. On Tuesday they blocked roads and set up flaming barricades in several cities in southern Chile, demanding that the government compensate them more for the toxic “red tide” algae that is devastating the country’s sizable aquaculture industry.
Last week Santiago declared a state of emergency in the southern Los Lagos region, home to many affected fish farms. On Friday Undersecretary of Health Jaime Burrows said that there had never been such a high level of toxin in the zone, with fish found with 7,500% higher than the maximum acceptable level. Consequently, he said “the probability that this lasts a prolonged time is quite high.”
Blouin News first reported on the outbreak in early March, and things have only gotten worse. Chile’s salmon output will be 25% less than last year, as losses approach a staggering 200,000 metric tons. Companies have reported more than $60 million in losses since the outbreak, an amount that was limited in some cases by insurance policies, reported Undercurrent News.
The government has offered about $150 per fisherman for compensation, and there are about 6,500 fishermen due for payments. However, they claim that $150 is insufficient to cover the basic needs of their families since their jobs are at risk (indeed, job losses in the industry could reach 5,000 as a result of the red tide). The protesters are demanding that the government triple the amount being offered, and have indicated that the blockades will be indefinite until Santiago concedes.
The government should acquiesce to the fishermen, and the sooner the better. The sum is not that large compared to other budget expenses, and Santiago should aim to adequately help its beleaguered fishermen in extraordinary circumstances. Any indecision will only harm transit, commerce, and tourism in the blockaded areas, which could be much more costly.