by Franco Vera


Salmones Camanchaca's hatchery in Ensenada, close to Petrohue river in southern Chile, was badly affected in April 2015 by a sudden eruption of the Calbuco volcano, which was inactive for more than 40 years. Today, it looks as if nothing had happened, and the brand-new facility has becomeagain an example of state-of-the-art RAS technology.

Salmones Camanchaca's hatchery in Ensenada is located on the road that connects the towns ofEnsenada andRalun in the Los Lagos region of Chile. It is a global benchmark for recirculation technology, and the first to use this technology in early 2000´s and is among the largest in the world, producing 12 million smolts-per-annum. A visitor would never suspect that only four years ago, this land was fully covered by ashes from the bottom of the earth lifted by the neighboring volcano, Calbuco.

People working on the day of the eruptionfelt some slight tremors. Hugo Cajas, Camanchaca'shatchery's Head Officer, reported "initially nothing strange was felt, considering that Chile is a seismic country, however, we started to received photos from a distant town, displaying an impressive plume emerging from Volcano Calbuco. We started to realise the magnitude of the event'.

Some employees went outside the hatchery to watch the neighboring volcano, located approximately 30 kilometers away, and noticed a gigantic mass of ashes and volcanic sand from the volcano's explosions, which started to cover the facility completely.

This ash plume was one of the largest ever recorded in Chile. Everyone followed the company's strict safety protocols and left the plant. Hugo Cajas recalls; our foremost critical concern was people's security andordered an immediate evacuation".

the evacuation was almost completed, we made sure that the equipment's were left 'on' to procure oxygenation to the baby fishes, aiming to protect as many as possible'.

The extent of the damage became apparent over the next few days, as fish mortality reached around 50 percent. In only a few hours, 15 years of work at the plant was buried under 600 kg/m2 of ash and volcanic sand, resulting in structural damage to the entire facility, as well as broken ponds and troughs.

Titanic rescue work managed to save around seven million fish, or one half, most of which were moved to other hatcheries using 250 trucks, while over one million smolts were taken to marine farm sites in 11 boats. This was a massive logistical challenge, carried out in the middle of an unstable volcano activity.

But natural disasters don't paralyseChileans. As soon as Camanchaca's employees were able to return to the hatchery, the rebuilding mode was played out.

Cajas said "we never thought of leaving the plant, were forced to do so, but as soon as authorities permitted, were back to manage the disaster and initiate the reconstruction".

Indeed, in December 2015, just a few months after the volcano Calbuco's eruption, the first new fish eggs started to arrive at Camanchaca hatchery in Petrohue. And despite months of inactivity, no employee was laid off. Alvaro Poblete, Camanchaca's Farming Manager said, "our people are the backbone of our company, and the critical success factor to rebuild and reinitiate normal business activities".

This natural disaster required an investment of US$10 million, used to clean the land, removing over 30,000-tonnes of ash in 1,500 truckloads, and to relocate fishes. More than $15 million were used to rebuild the plant.

The volcano's eruption provided an opportunity to upgrade the recirculation technology and to bring it to a state-of-the-art level. New equipment included electronic monitoring, scanners for sexing, photoperiod for fish development, automatic feeders, robotic cleaning for the filtration area, acclimatisation units prior to transferring fish to the sea, and other technologies were added.

Greater automation was introduced to the plant, using the best supporting software. The latest sensors were introduced to monitor chemical-environmental parameters in the water, and new water treatment systems have been installed.

In addition, civil structures were reinforced to provide better support in the event of new events, including excess of snow.

Camanchaca obtained its fourth star in BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) certification, from the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), as a result of these innovations. Salmones Camanchaca is the only Chilean salmon company that trades on the Oslo Stock Exchange, the world's largest seafood market.

"The decision was very quickly taken to rebuild here in Ensenada, beside the Petrohue River, due to its exceptional underground water quality, its proximity to Puerto Montt,its inhabited environment, and its easy access' explained the General Manager, Manuel Arriagada.

The plant uses only one-to-two percent of the water extracted from wells on land, and recirculates the remaining 98-99 percent, making it highly sustainable.

Today, it looks as if nothing had happened in Petrohue, a global top-class water recirculation hatchery, with potential production of 14 million fish-per-year, with its resilient people and civil structure, enabling Camanchaca to successfully face potential disasters.

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