Chilean fishermen were working Thursday to recover hundreds of thousands of salmon that escaped from a fish farm as environmentalists warned of possible risks if they are eaten by humans, the government said.
A storm on July 6 damaged nine enclosures at Marine Harvest's Punta Redonda Center near the southern city of Calbuco, freeing at least 600,000 salmon into the wild, the company said.
Local fishermen are working with Marine Harvest, one of the world's largest salmon producers, to recover the salmon and had captured about 30,000 by Thursday, the firm said. Under Chilean law, the company has 30 days to recover the fish.
Some of the salmon had been injected with a course of antibiotics that was incomplete at the time of their escape, making them unfit for human consumption and prompting concern by environmental groups that the fish will make it into the food chain too early.
But that threat wasn't stopping residents of Puerto Montt in Southern Chile, who were keen to grab the salmon at much-reduced prices.
Marine Harvest downplayed the threat posed to the environment by Florfenicol, the antibiotic injected into some of the escaped salmon, saying on Thursday that there was little risk it could generate resistance in humans.
Marine Harvest risks a fine of up to US$220,000 or the revocation of its operating permit at its Punta Redonda Center, although the term is renewable for another 30 days.
The Chilean government has given the company 10 days to provide more information about how the escape occurred and a contingency plan for monitoring the drugs administered to the salmon.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the overuse of antibiotics is making humans more resistant to their effects, making it difficult to overcome common infections like E. coli and pneumonia.
Another extensive investigation by RAND Europe found that by 2050, the human population could be reduced by up to 444 million if growing bacterial resistance to antibiotics is not tackled soon.
The poultry and pork industries would have some responsibility for antibiotic resistance: as pigs and chickens are packed up in confined boxes, they are more prone to diseases, which is why industries prefer to use preventive medication.