Fishing and Forestry

Chile Table of Contents

Chile is well endowed in fish and forest resources. Since the 1980s, output has increased rapidly in both sectors, and exports have boomed. An increasing proportion of these sectors' output was being processed, appearing in the economic statistics as manufactured products.


The cold waters of South America's western coast are rich in fish and contain a wide variety of shellfish. For instance, about 800 varieties of mollusks are found there, including the largest abalones and edible sea urchins in the world. Some species, such as the abalones, had been depleted to the point that they could not be harvested legally. About 750 kilometers from the mainland, the waters surrounding the Islas Juan Fernández are much warmer and contain different types of fish and shellfish, including lobster.

Fishing expanded rapidly starting in the late 1970s. By 1983 Chile was ranked fifth in the world in catch tonnage and had become the world's leading exporter of fish meal. Despite naturally caused year-to-year variations, the volume of the total fish catch had increased over the long term. For example, in 1970 the total catch was 1.2 million tons, but the figures increased to 2.9 million tons in 1980 and 6.3 million tons in 1989. The total catch was about 5.4 million tons in 1990 according to Central Bank data. Total fish caught in 1991, reached 6 million tons, and fishing exports totaled US$1.1 billion, up 21 percent from 1990 and 138 percent from 1985. Of the 1991 figure, fish meal accounted for US$466 million. Fish exports rose to 6.5 million tons in 1992.

Salmon production was expected to reach 46,000 tons in 1992, earning about US$250 million and turning the country into the third largest producer in the world (after Norway and Canada). Starting with fifty-three tons in 1981, the explosive growth in salmon production and exports reflected the combination of perfect natural conditions for its cultivation in the south with the successful adaptation of modern technology.

By the early 1990s, a lack of fishing regulations was threatening some species and giving the large fishing fleets advantages over the smaller-scale, traditional fishermen who use small boats. After long debate, Congress approved the new General Fishing Law in July 1991. The law's purpose was to encourage investment in commercial fishing by ensuring the conservation of hydrobiological resources, by protecting against overfishing, by reserving for traditional fishermen an exclusive eight-kilometer strip of coastal waters, and by promoting fishing research. The infrastructure plan also included providing resources for developing large and small ports for industrial and traditional fishing. Total output of industrialized fish products was expected to increase significantly with new investments during the 1990s. Both the good catches in the 1989-91 period and the openness of the regulations had prompted Chilean companies to invest a total of US$100 million and to build nearly twenty boats.


Beginning in 1975, the planting and exploitation of forests was subsidized heavily by the state, which remitted 70 percent of the cost of planting new areas with trees, exempted such lands from taxes, and permitted a 50 percent deduction for tax purposes from the profits generated from cutting the forests. The forestry policy of the military government was a major exception to its free-market approach and stimulated a significant expansion of forested land.

Chile's forested land is highly concentrated in the hands of a few major companies, principally those connected with the flourishing paper industry and with the national oil company. About 90 percent of all the wood harvested comes from plantations that were established, beginning in the early 1960s, on land of poor quality that originally had been cleared of forests for the growing of wheat and other crops. Reforestation, mostly with pine but also increasingly with eucalyptus, has continued at a faster pace than the cutting of the forests, thereby ensuring ample supplies for the foreseeable future. It was thought that the volume of production could double 1990 levels by the year 2000.

The public sector is playing a drastically smaller role in forestry. This diminution of the public sector's role is the result of the general tendency in the country toward reducing, and even eliminating, directly productive government activities. In 1992 the forestry industry was objecting strongly to the new powers that the Aylwin government was proposing to confer on the National Forestry Corporation (Corporación Nacional Forestal--Conaf) to protect native forests.

Whereas exports of basic--that is, nonmanufactured--forestry products had declined by the early 1990s, exports of manufactured wood products had almost doubled. This doubling of manufactured wood exports meant that instead of exporting raw logs, Chile was increasingly adding value to its forest products and was producing such items as milled boards, pulp, paper, and cardboard. The main market was Japan, which absorbed 25 percent of the value of exports, followed by the United States and Germany, with 8 percent each. Chile's print industry was enjoying a boom in the early 1990s, supplying books and magazines to neighboring countries, especially to Argentina (which accounted for 75 percent of overseas sales) and Brazil (12 percent). Exports of books and magazines grew by 90 percent in 1992 to about US$70 million.

Under study in 1992 was a bill to regulate Chile's shrinking but still large native old-growth forests, which totaled 7.62 million hectares out of 8.86 million hectares of woodland (the remaining 1.24 million hectares are plantations). Chile's forestry industry has worked mostly on plantations of radiata pine, the raw material used for making pulp. But the country's native forests are in need of management to avoid extinction or indiscriminate harvesting of slow-growing species and the resultant erosions and loss of land for future plantations of new species. During 1991, about 107,000 hectares were planted.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress