Copper set to transform Chile’s salmon industry

Cages constructed with the mineral eliminate up to 99.9 percent of all pathogens, among other benefits for the health of the fish and of the environment.  

The world’s leading copper industry looks set to propel its salmon industry into a similar position, with the development of new technology that will boost production – and benefit the environment.
So claims EcoSea, an affiliate of Chile’s state owned mining company Codelco, after the first harvest of Atlantic salmon using fish cages built from copper alloy in the locality of Hornopirén, Patagonia, about 620 miles (1,000 km) south of Santiago.
“The demonstration that the antimicrobial properties of copper also function in water, without affecting the ecosystem, is a tremendous advance for the health of the fish and the world food supply, which is highly dependent on aquaculture,” said Codelco’s Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Director Juan Pablo Schaeffer.
The results indicate up to a 99.9 percent reduction of pathogens in the water, and immunization against the potentially disastrous ISA virus, a 35 percent decrease in fish mortality rate, better oxygenation and utilization of food, avoidance of anomalies such as fouling (mollusk invasions) and attacks of predators that can break traditional mesh cages.
The cages are also an environmentally friendly alternative, as they are recyclable, don’t contaminate the water and don’t require chemicals to prevent outbreaks.
Currently, Chile has 68 of these non-submersible cages, cultivating four million Atlantic salmon and trout, which amounts to around 20,000 tons.
«We have also implemented the first submersible copper mesh in the southern Lakes Region, which will improve the productivity and sustainability of the sector,” said EcoSea General Manager Rodrigo Sánchez, “allowing worldwide aquaculture in places away from the coasts and exposed to bad weather, currents and waves.»
As the world’s largest producer of the mineral, Chile is pioneering new applications of copper that utilize its antimicrobial properties in areas such as transport, public spaces, schools and hospitals.
“In the next few years, the potential market for all of the new uses of copper, like cages, textiles and hospitals, could raise to more than 200,000 tons per season,” said Chilean Mining Minister Hernán de Solminihac.