Fisheries in Chile on Tuesday began inoculating farm-raised salmon against infectious salmon anemia (ISA), a virus that has killed millions of fish and threatens the viability of a once-flourishing industry.
Authorities so far have vaccinated some 300,000 farm-raised hatchlings, which next year will be taken out to sea for release and harvest, and say millions more will be inoculated in the coming months.
“We hope to vaccinate between 10 and 12 million fish over the next six months, Alejandro Pino, a manager at the Recalcine pharmaceutical company which manufactures the drug, told AFP.
He said the vaccination program, along with stepped up oversight of fisheries, was needed to save the once-thriving salmon industry, a source of millions of dollars each year in revenue.
“If all new measures are taken — vaccines and new regulations — we might see production levels return to 2007 levels,” within a few years, Pino said.
The new vaccine is injected into the bellies of young salmon while they are still in their fresh-water phase and weigh just a few dozen grams.
The medicine was tested last year and approved for commercial use against the ISA scourge, which has decimated salmon farming in Puerto Montt, the heart of the industry, some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of the capital Santiago.
The highly infectious virus, specific to Atlantic salmon, was detected in southern Chile in 2007, in the Chiloe archipelago near Puerto Montt. Humans appear not to be affected by ISA.
Since the outbreak, salmon production has fallen from 400,000 tonnes at its peak, to just 250,000 tonnes this year.