SANTIAGO, Chile, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Struggling to recover from a devastating health crisis, the once-booming salmon farming industry in Chile faces an uncertain future, experts say.
Once second in the world only to Norway, the country's industry saw production cut in half by the infectious salmon anemia virus that spread through the fish farms in the southern Chilean regions of Los Lagos, Aysen and Magallanes, Inter Press Service reported Sunday.
Experts blame the collapse on the speed of the industry's growth and the lack of government control or oversight.
"Salmon farming expanded quickly, without a regulatory framework or adequate controls to prevent and anticipate environmental problems or the development of transmittable fish diseases," Carlos Chavez, an expert in environmental economy and natural resources at the University of Concepcion, said.
The virus forced producers to harvest fish early and shut down operations in order to clear the waters, and the fish farms hit bottom in January 2009.
In 2007 and 2008 Chile produced an estimated 650,000 tons, while this year the yield is predicted to be between 250,000 and 300,000 tons.
Of the 55,000 direct and indirect jobs in the industry during its boom times, only 25,000 remain.
"The situation is catastrophic -- with former workers losing their homes, and no money to send their children to school or even to eat," Javier Ugarte, president of the National Confederation of Salmon Workers, says.