At CSARP+ launch, Chilean salmon industry leaders acknowledge failure to develop SRS vaccine has stymied antibiotic reduction effort

01 May 2024

Seven Chilean firms have teamed with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to launch CSARP+, a program designed to renew efforts to reduce antibiotic usage across the South American country’s salmon-farming industry. In 2019, companies comprising more than 90 percent of Chile’s salmon production vowed to reduce their use of antibiotics by 50 percent and seek a “Good Alternative”rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program by 2025 through participation in the newly created Chilean Salmon Antibiotic Reduction Program (CSARP).

With the 2025 deadline approaching, attaining that goal is looking increasingly unlikely, according to SalmonChile President Arturo Clement.

“Unfortunately, in the last few years, we [had] a lot of environmental issues that really changed the trend of reduction we had in the first three years. We have a lot of problems of oxygen in the farms that [increased] the levels of stress in our fish, so unfortunately, we started using more antibiotics,” he said at the CSARP+ launch event at the 2024 Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona, Spain, on 24 April. “But, I think we’re going to have a reduction for 2023, and we need to do a big effort over the next two years in order to try to get as close as we can on the goal.”

CSARP’s goal was to achieve 206 grams of antibiotics used per metric ton (MT) of Chilean farmed salmon by 2025. The industry got closest in 2019 at 375 grams per MT, with the number rising to 409 grams per MT in 2020, 471 grams per MT in 2021, and 489 grams per MT in 2022. The figures for 2023 have not yet been released. However, a sharp dichotomy has emerged between usage among the seven companies that have joined the CSARP+ program – Australis Seafoods, Blumar, Camanchaca, Cermaq, Cooke Chile, Multi X, and Nova Austral – which jointly reduced their antibiotic usage to 280 grams per MT in 2022. Non-CSARP+ members, meanwhile, increased their usage to 737 grams per MT.

Monterey Bay Aquarium created the CSARP+ program to draw a distinction between the two groups, according to Monterey Bay Aquarium Global Ocean Conservation Vice President Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly.

“They're serious about this, and they know they have to come together to find a solution because it's ultimately going to help the entire industry. We're looking for them to also motivate the rest of the industry by pulling together and meeting these goals,” Kemmerly told SeafoodSource. "One of the biggest limiting factors in our Seafood Watch assessment of Chilean farmed Atlantic salmon is the chemical use and, specifically, the antibiotic use and the ecosystem impacts. We feel that this work will have a transfer effect beyond the farmed salmon industry and demonstrate in Chile and to other countries and other seafood commodity groups a model for how collaboration, innovation, and persistence can pay off.”

To maintain CSARP+ status, companies must continue to reach new, individual reduction targets annually and agree to share data about their progress, demonstrate continuous improvement, and show evidence of innovation and collaboration. Kemmerly said Monterey Bay Aquarium will continue to work with other CSARP members to improve progress “with the hope more companies will join CSARP+ in the future.”

Camanchaca CEO Ricardo Garcia said the biggest factor preventing the attainment of the antibiotic-reduction goal has been the failure of the industry to develop an effective vaccine for salmon rickettsial syndrome (SRS), which is the reason for 90 percent of antibiotic treatments in Chile.

“We were very optimistic a few years ago that the LiVac vaccine from Pharmaq would generate the results that will lead us to reduce [antibiotic use] even more than 50 percent … This is a vaccine that is being injected at the hatchery level before the fish goes to the ocean and was supposed to provide enough protection within the ocean stage. Unfortunately, the vaccine has not proven that effective,” Garcia said at the event. “Despite the refinements that we've made in our operations and the treatment [process], we still must use antibiotics. We don't like antibiotics, but we dislike even more seeing fish suffering from terrible diseases. The solution is not to use or not use antibiotics; the solution is to work to get vaccines or other elements that prevent fish from getting disease.”

Garcia said he is hopeful other antimicrobial options being developed, such as bacteria firewalls or bacteriophages, can prove their worth over time. But, he said right now, the industry is committed to optimizing its practices to minimize stress on the salmon, which can weaken their immune systems, and optimizing its feed recipes, spatial planning, biomass density, use of larger post-smolt to shorten the time the salmon spend in the sea, and reducing mechanical treatments as much as possible. Not only do those measures reduce the amount of antibiotics needed to maintain salmon health, but they can also lead to reduced costs, as antibiotic treatments are expensive, Garcia said.

Garcia praised two precompetitive initiatives, Pincoy Project and Project Yelcho, both unrelated to the CSARP+ program, that are each working to develop best practices and reduce antibiotic use, as well as to encourage knowledge-sharing, especially around observed environmental changes or other farming conditions in Chile.

“It’s a collective effort to open up to all pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical companies that may provide or may have an idea on how to address the use of antibiotics or the SRS disease so that they can compete to get a solution. Once we get the best solution, we will commit to that solution so that there is a prize for those that … accelerate the process of innovating the solution for SRS. We have gone through all of the providers globally of solutions for SRS,”he said.“We have come up with a shortlist, we have signed an agreement with them individually, and we have gotten the collaboration of the Chilean government to put effort into that. I hope that maybe next year we have something to say about the solution.”

The Chilean government has also helped by making changes to aquaculture permitting regulations that link maximum permitted production volumes to antibiotic usage, according to Blumar CEO Gerardo Balbontín. However, he said, ultimately, the movement away from antibiotic usage must be led by the industry and by each individual company making a commitment that is clearly communicated to every employee.

“To make things happen, not only the management level needs to be convinced about this but also at the site level, which is the most important thing. The people at the site level have to be really convinced that this goal is the target for the country, for the industry, and for the company,” he said.

Blumar has made that commitment, Balbontín said. “In our case, it is an important issue. We have made it a KPI for the management side. When we did that, everyone started doing all they could at every site to produce [results],” he said.

Even so, neither Blumar nor Camanchaca will be using their work on antibiotic reduction in their marketing materials.

“To promote yourself as leading the way in antibiotic reduction is a very dangerous marketing position, which I believe most of the companies know,” Garcia said. “I personally wouldn't market my products as without antibiotics for two reasons. First, the product itself does not have antibiotics – the fish was treated with antibiotics many months before. The second thing is that if you position yourself as raised without antibiotics, you may end up finding in the future that you will be forced to use them on some new diseases. Where is your positioning then? It’s in the water closet.”

Therefore, the CSARP+ program will not have a consumer-facing label, though the participating companies will get recognition on Monterey Bay Aquarium’s program website and printed materials. Nevertheless, Balbontín said the SRS vaccine still remains the silver bullet to addressing the fundamental issue of the Chilean industry’s higher-than-desired antibiotic usage.

“We have not resolved the bottom line of this, which is to have an efficient vaccine or an alternative to a vaccine so that the fish do not get [SRS] at all,”he said. “ It’s a very difficult problem, and that’s why the vaccine has not been discovered yet. Only once we have the solution will we be happy.”

Source of the Article: SeafoodSource
Author: Cliff White, Executive Editor of SeafoodSource