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Mac Margolis

Latin America Reckons With a Fish-Farming Boom

A prosperous industry cannot be allowed to harm ocean habitats.

Chilean fish farm.

Chilean fish farm.

Photographer: JAIME PENA/AFP/Getty Images

When he failed to ignite a continental uprising against South America’s 19th-century colonial masters, Simon Bolivar was crestfallen. “He who serves the revolution plows the seas,” he despaired. Happily, Bolivar got it backward.

From the Yucatan Peninsula to the Strait of Magellan, aquaculture is revolutionizing food production. Plowing the oceans and inland waters, Latin America and the Caribbean expanded more than five-fold their output of captive finfish, crustaceans and mollusks and, from 1995 to 2016, nearly doubled the regional share of global aquaculture. Chilean fish farms now supply about 30% of the world’s salmon and earn the country more revenue than any other export except minerals. Ecuador is the world’s fifth largest supplier of marine crustaceans, Mexico ranks seventh, and Peru’s fisheries are poised to export their aquaculture technology. That makes Central and South America the fastest growing flank of the world’s fastest growing food industry, a global haul now worth $243 billion a year, and on track to double output by 2030.