Innovating for Sustainability: A Conversation with Esteban Ramírez, CEO of Intesal

In this interview, we engage with Esteban Ramírez, CEO of the Instituto Tecnológico del Salmon (Intesal) in Chile, to explore his extensive experience in the Chilean salmon industry, the challenges it faces, and the innovative solutions being implemented. Esteban shares insights on the industry's strides in socio-environmental practices, the ambitions of Intesal, and the critical role of collaboration between government and industry in promoting sustainable aquaculture. Join us as we delve into the future of Chilean salmon farming and its potential to address global challenges.


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Esteban, you have extensive experience in the Chilean salmon industry. What is your highlight?

I have spent six years in the Chilean salmon industry, leading INTESAL. The most significant highlight is witnessing the industry's potential to address global issues like climate change while contributing to sustainable food production. Over time, we have made significant strides in improving socio-environmental practices, enhancing community relations, and promoting good farming practices. At INTESAL, we support these efforts, aiming to bridge gaps and foster collaboration. My focus is on ensuring the industry's continued progress and the well-being of the 70,000 families dependent on it.

Can you share a bit more about INTESAL, what is the ambition of the company?

INTESAL, the Salmon Technological Institute, is part of the Chilean Salmon Association (Salmonchile) and was established in 1992 with support from CORFO to drive research and innovation in Chilean salmon farming. Our ambition is to generate key scientific knowledge and advance sustainability in the industry. We focus on promoting good practices in sanitary and aquaculture health issues. Recently, we launched a five-year Science Plan to address new socio-environmental challenges and establish the real impact of salmon farming on biodiversity, oceanography, water resources, and coastal governance, all within the context of climate change adaptation.

What are the main challenges impacting the Chilean salmon market today?

The main challenges impacting the Chilean salmon market today include sanitary, environmental, social, and governance issues. These challenges have constrained the industry's growth, making it essential to address them with a sustainable, long-term vision to ensure the sector's future.

In Chile, CSARP reported that only 23% of sites declared ‘no use’ of antibiotics in 2022 (compared to >99% in Norway). What are the main drivers of antibiotic usage, and what can Chile learn from Norway?

Chile's high antibiotic use in salmon farming stems from Piscirickettsia salmonis, a bacteria absent in Norway. Despite heavy vaccination efforts and reduced mortality, Chile can learn from Norway's robust disease research that creates effective vaccines. However, the two countries face different challenges. Norway invests heavily in research to combat issues like yersiniosis, while Chile tackles unique bacterial threats. Additionally, Norway faces distinct health concerns like sea lice, highlighting the complexity of regional aquaculture issues. While lessons can be shared, directly comparing their health landscapes isn't ideal due to these significant production and health variations. Importantly, Chile's current low mortality rates indicate a well-managed health situation.

CSARP has an ambition to half its antibiotic usage in Chilean aquaculture by 2025. How is the progress to achieving this?

Progress towards CSARP's goal of halving antibiotic usage in Chilean aquaculture by 2025 is promising. Despite challenges like environmental factors and pandemic-related restrictions impacting the decreasing trend in antibiotic use, recent data from CSARP and Sernapesca indicates significant progress. Approximately 50% of companies have either reached the goal or are close to it, with many joining CSARP+, a new initiative coordinated by Monterey Bay Aquarium. The ongoing challenge is to maintain good antibiotic usage practices, aiming for reductions without compromising fish health and welfare.

What solutions is the industry implementing to reduce its reliance on antibiotics?

Chile's salmon industry is actively reducing antibiotic use through a multi-pronged approach. Public-private partnerships like Yelcho are leading the charge, fostering collaboration to develop new disease prevention solutions and vaccines. This initiative mirrors successful public-private efforts in human health, like the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, programs like Pincoy and Proa support best practices in fish health management and disease prevention. These efforts aim to emulate Norway's success in minimizing antibiotic use through robust research and preventative measures.

How important is it to reduce the risk of AMR? And what role does aquaculture have?

Aquaculture, particularly salmon farming, plays a significant role in preventing AMR as we still rely on antibiotics to control certain diseases. In the case of Chile, we have few antibiotic alternatives, and part of this scenario is related to a joint effort between salmon producers and authorities to eliminate the use of critically important antibiotics for human health in salmon production.

What is the role of government and / or industry in developing health management programs for salmon, and how can they work together?

Government and industry collaboration is vital in developing salmon health management programs to ensure aquaculture sustainability and productivity. From Intesal's perspective, representing salmon companies on technical matters before the government underscores the importance of such collaboration. Through continuous dialogue and combining expertise, partnerships are formed, leading to joint projects tackling cross-cutting industry issues. For instance, the Program for Health Management in Aquaculture (PGSA) facilitated collaboration between industry, government, and research centers to address challenges like SRS and Caligus through research programs.

If you had a crystal ball, what will the Chilean salmon industry look like in 5-10 years-time?

In 5-10 years, the Chilean salmon industry will likely see significant advancements across various areas. Adoption of new technologies, like remote feeding systems and AI-powered equipment, will accelerate. Rising RAS systems, now representing over 35% of produced smolts, will lead to shorter production cycles and reduced health and environmental risks. Sustainability efforts will continue, with a focus on effective communication. However, regulatory obstacles and uncertainties must be resolved to realize these advancements. Collaboration between the government and the industry is crucial to develop a national vision for salmon farming, addressing current challenges and leveraging its potential for sustainable food production.