Norwegian-owned salmon farmer which operates in far southern Chile being investigated over alleged misreporting of salmon mortality numbers.
On Friday, SalmonBusiness reported that an investigative piece by the news site El Mostrador entitled “Salmon Leaks” alleged that Nova Austral’s area managers were given instructions are given to manipulate salmon mortality statistics presented to the auditing authority (SIFA).
The article has prompted an investigation by Chilean authorities Sernapesca. On Saturday, the certification and labelling aquaculture body the ASC said that it “does not tolerate fraud” – after it was notified by Control Union Peru, the independent conformity assessment body that certified the Nova Austral sites. Nova Austral received its first certification in 2016.
In a statement to the Oslo Stock Exchange on Friday, the company said that it is currently carrying out an internal investigation to confirm whether the emails published on the June 27 press article were edited or manipulated by an anonymous party. “Nova Austral has not instructed its staff to conceal or manipulate information from Sernapesca, nor to conduct “double accounting” practices,” it wrote.
True mortality figure
The emails on El Mostrador site appears to show a member of the company allegedly seeking to hide true mortality figures in order to get rid of the fines. However, Nova Austral claim that the article has mispresented contents in the email.
“The emails published in the article misinterpret the use of the words “real” and “declared”, implying that they were intended to deceive the authorities. The authors of these emails indicate that the information provided refers to the “real” rate pertaining to the current week, versus the “declared” rate from the previous week. These are accounting terms used in long-term monitoring,” wrote Nova Austral.
In the statement, Nova Austral – which is chaired by Norwegian Yngve Myhre, a former Nofima board member (last chaired in 2017) who is also on the board of Andromeda and Benchmark Holdings – added more rebuttals:
• Nova Austral and Sernapesca abide by permanent controls regarding all the variables associated with the farms, such as mortality.
• All the information provided by Nova Austral has been consistent and no deviations have been detected, which has been confirmed by Sernapesca’s continuous reviews. We have called for the implementation of a new internal control.
• Some sites can occasionally present anaerobic conditions in the sea bed, a normal occurrence that forces the affected sites to cease operations. Once the sea bed’s aerobic condition is recovered, farming activities can be restarted. This process is successful because the salmon generates organic matter that is recycled by the environment, which is then able to recover.
• The spreadsheets published by the outlet are confusing since they are in Excel format, which does not comply with the company’s standardized format. In addition, they do not illustrate that the data corresponds to a single site with differing numbers.
• The mortality rate is accurate, and a rigorous process is followed every time it is recorded. Each fish that dies is removed from the cage, the cause of mortality is evaluated, the inventory is reduced, and the fish waste is recycled at a fishmeal plant.
• The number of deceased fish is reported weekly to Sernapesca, which also tracks the site’s inventory. If a deceased fish is not removed from the inventory, the difference will emerge in the harvest, since fish cannot be harvested and processed weeks or months after dying. This means that, in the long-term, it is not possible to falsify the number of fish that have died.
• The information reported by the outlet, which shows that 82.77% of the mortality rate is due to BKD; is also misleading given that this does not take into account the total fish mortality rate, which amounts to 0.35% of the farm. This actually means that only 0.29% of the farm died.
• Nova Austral is working to confirm the accuracy of the emails that discuss mortalities at several of our sites. However, we note that Sernapesca has always been duly informed in cases when the company has registered mortality rates surpassing the 15% limit.