By David Stenerud
Approximately on the middle of the famously long coastline of Chile, just south of the city of Conseption, lies Coronel. The biggest fish feed factory in the world, Cermaq-owned EWOS, is situated here.
The market for fish feed has exploded in Chile over the last few years. Annually, the country produces some 250.000 tons of salmon. Many predict Chile will pass Norway, and become the largest salmon producer in the world, within the next eight years.
- Today we have a market share on fish feed in Chile at around 60 percent, operational manager at EWOS, Alejandro Toledo, told NorWatch. - All of our produced feed stays in the Chilean marked, nothing is exported.
The manager showed us the whole chain of production: were the raw material is unloaded, the milling process, the coolers, the drums and the survey room. The vast majority of the production is automatic; giant machines do all the work, only monitored by a handfull of "responsibles".
Only the packing is still handled manually.
-All in all there are 200 men working in the production, explained Toledo. 100 of them work in packing hall. I have considered automizing the packing as well, like the rest of the production. However, it would take me seven years to earn in the investment costs on the machines, so... and, after all, we are talking about the jobs of a hundred men here.
The packers are the ones earning less in all of the factory. The most newly employed make 180.000 Chilean pesos a month, less than 280 USD. 20 percent is drawn from the salary to cover ensurance and taxes. Low as the wages are at EWOS, they are far above minimum salary in Chile; at present no employer may legally pay an employee less than 105.500 Chilean pesos a month, that is 160 USD.
- Environmentally sound
- We have added clorine to the water so as to be able to drink it as tap water, Toledo told us.
The waste is also handled with care: All biological refuse from the factory goes into a compost, were it becomes soil.
- There is no legal obligation for this in Chile, but we think it is important to run our production environmentally, manager Toledo informed. He, never the less, acknowledge that a legal command may come, and that it may "be good to be a little ahead".
The canteen is open 24 hours a day, just like the factory itself.
- Everyone eats here, said the factory manager. - The executives, office personell, the workers... all of us.
The factory men we talked to said they had good salaries - and that they do not have a union.
In the neighbouring area and down town Coronel, the environment is far from as nice and clean as at the factory site. Here, the poverty is pressing: Houses are falling apart, people wear worn out clothes, the roads are full of holes and trafficked by rusty wrecks - and some horse-and-carries.
A few years ago the state owned mines were closed and 2000 people lost their jobs. Now, fishery is the only source of income to the community. Many have packed their things and moved elsewhere, more are unemployed - and it is no easy ride being unemployed in Chile. Umemployment money is an unknown term, so is social welfare.
Most fishing quotas are devided along the 80-20-principal, that is, the industry get 80 percent of the legal out-take, the small scale fishermen get 20 percent.
As such, the effects of overfishing and lowering of quotas affect the coastal fishers strongest, even though they are less to blame.
Figures provided by the resource organisastion Terram in Santiago show that the four fish stocks over which the small scale fishery and the industry are competing (common and southern sardine, anchovy and jack mackerel) are all dangerously overexploited. Three of them still have downward trends.
There is a lot of fishing industry in this part of Chile; numerous boats, fish meal plants, fish feed producers and can factories. In relation to the quantity of fish caught, however, few people are occupied with the marine resource. That is a fact, as shown, also mirrored at the EWOS factory.
Economist Marcel Claude, head of the mentioned Terram organisation, finds the situation in the fishing industry illustrative of the overall situation in Chile today.
- We currently have around 10 percent national unemloyment. This is "structural unemployment"; a consequence of the same market liberalism that has given Chile the boost in the economy as such, said Marcel Claude.
- The lack of employment is caused by the fact that the large scale industry in all the major resource sectors (fish, forest and mining, ed.) use the healthy financial situation to effectivise the production - through automization and merging - thus needing less labour.
- Not our concern
Karl Samsing is CEO of EWOS in Chile. NorWatch met him at the company's up-town head office in Santiago.
- What say the director to the critisism forwarded by environmentalists and others; on feeding fish with fish that could have been used directly for human consumption?
- Yes, I know the critisism from the greens... but look here!
Samsing sets up a calculation, showing the increase of value that occures through the process.
- Tell me what is best! Samsing retorically challenged NorWatch. - To effectively double the value of the fish by producing salmon with it, or not to? What is best for Chile?
- But what about the food supply side of it? NorWatch asked. - There is, after all, lack of protein in the world.
- Obviously, you can feed more people if you use wild fish directly for human consumption, Samsing admitted. - But that is not our concern.