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The Government of Chile, assisted by the United Nations Development Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, have been engaged in the Fisheries Development in Chile Project (CHI/80/002) whose main purpose has been to develop fisheries economy, preserve and increase hydrobiological resources, and improve the social standards of the artisanal fisherman.

As part of the project operations, FAO assigned Mr. G. Michanek as Consultant (Algae Resources Management) from 27 October to 23 December 1981 with the following terms of reference:

Under the guidance of the Senior Technical Adviser to:


1.2.1 Availability of Information

Much is known about Chilean seaweed resources, and much of this is reviewed in various contributions in the “Actas del Primer Symposium sobre Algas Marinas Chilenas” (Santelices, 1979). Other surveys are those of Jaramillo (1975) and Joyce and Santelices (1978).

Many investigations have been carried out, but the results of these investigations are not easily accessible. A number of studies are unpublished, remaining as theses in universities or as reports with the bodies which financed or requested the research. For example: there appeared in a few copies a series called “Universidad de Concepción - IFOP, 1967–1972, Las algas marinas industrializables del litoral chileno”, Comunicaciones 1–9. This series was never printed and generally distributed.

The universities are very poor in literature. Foreign journals and books are for the most part beyond the reach of their limited budgets for acquisitions. Requests by scientists and industrialists for literature on foreign research on seaweed, e.g., Gracilaria, show that such documentation hardly exists.

A first step to improve this situation would be to produce a reference list to be distributed to universities and companies treating and dealing with seaweeds. The author has drafted a preliminary list which can be used as a basis for an amended and completed bibliography.

The second step would be to establish a centre from which such articles could be ordered as photocopies or microfiches.

A third step could be a joint acquisition agreement to cover phycological literature; for example, two universities retain Botanica Marina1 and Phycologia2, at least one all the proceedings from the International Seaweed Symposia, the other the Indian journal, Seaweed Research and Utilization, and perhaps yet others those of the phycological societies of France, Japan, the UK, the USA, etc.

1 Published by Walter de Gruyter, Berlin

2 Published by Blackwell, Oxford, for the International Phycological Society

Map of Chile showing Regions

If papers of general interest were printed - and printed in English - scientists and universities would obtain an invaluable stock of exchange material. At present, scientific investigations are published in Spanish, and possibly a selection of them appear in English translations a few years later. The selection tends to favour papers dealing with basic scientific problems, whereas, internationally, the present demand appears to be for experience papers in applied phycology, which remain unpublished in Chile today.

1.2.2 Basic Data on Resources and Exploitation

Quantitative evaluations on standing stocks of the commercially most important species are:

Gracilaria73 000–83 000 t
Lessonia82 000–96 000 t
Macrocystis1 400 000–2 100 000 t


1980t wet weight landed1t dry weight exported2Value US$.t-1 dry weight 1979
Lessonia48 7328 050260 
Gracilaria20 2757 478756 
Iridaea5 3255 067541 
Gelidium703443 151 
Durvillea17-5 1203
Total74 52321 276 

1 SERNAP (Servicio Nacional de Pesca), Anuario estadístico de pesca, 1980
2 ODEPA (Oficina de Planificación Agrícola) Boletín de Comercio Exterior
3 Calculated from fish hall price in Valdivia: Pesos 50 per lot (rueda) of 250 g
Exchange: US$ 1.00 = Chilean Pesos 38.80 (January 1980)

(The differences reflect inter alia the conversion wet weight/dry weight and the fact that there is a time lapse between harvest and export, e.g., that the harvest of 1979 may be exported in 1980.)

In order to understand the present problems it is important to consider that annual seaweed exports from Chile have increased tenfold over a decade, as shown below:

Volume (t)19691979Source
Annual seaweed export1 800over 17 000Santelices and Lopehandía (1981)
Domestic agar production91387 
Value (US$ 1 000)   
Dry algae exports1 05411 423Secretaría de Pesca, Decreto de Agricultura 37 (1976)
Agar exports2983 578SERNAP (1969)
Banco Central (1979)
  15 001 

According to Santelices and Lopehandía (1981), however, the export of dry algae and agar was worth over US$ 17 million in 1979; ODEPA (Boletín de Comercio Exterior) reported US$ 12.9 million value of exported dry algae in 1980.

An area breakdown gives the following information.


Lessonia-39 9928 605   135-----11 409--48 732
Gracilaria-    123-2 272--1136 358-  2 039--20 275
Iridaea---      9---3 277-       10--  5 325
Macrocystis------  94-----     104
Gelidium---     70--------       70
Durvillea-------17----       17
Total-40 1158 6052 486--2079 652-13 458--74 523

SERNAP, Anuario estadístico de pesca (1980) Table 38

(The figures are based on reports submitted by the trading companies and are believed to be underestimates as there is a tax imposed on reported harvests. True figures are at least 25 percent higher, corresponding to an actual total harvest of 93 000, maybe 100 000 t wet weight.)

The six regions without any reported commercial production are not without algae resources. On the contrary, they have even greater stocks. Indeed, the Macrocystis biomass in the XII Region is estimated at 200 000–300 000 t dry weight.

The figures rather reflect the degree of development of the regions' population density, accessibility to the coast, climatic conditions and coastal features, all in relation to current market conditions.

1.2.3 Basic Limitations in Knowledge on Chilean Seaweeds

Nearly all investigations are restricted to algae found on the littoral belt between the high and low water lines. In addition, Gracilaria meadows in the upper sublittoral are surveyed. Very little is known on other subtidal algae with regard to basic information on taxa and ecology, as well as to possible resources (e.g., Lessonia, the species not yet officially named).

Geographically, most sampling for lists of species has been carried out in the area from Coquimbo to Ancud and in the Strait of Magellan. In northern Chile, sporadic sampling has been done, it appears with the main objective of assessing distribution ranges for southern and northern species.

The southernmost point of Chiloé seems to be the southern end of the species lists as well as the southernmost point of Gracilaria exploitation. It is by no means the southernmost point of seaweed resources, but rather the southernmost point accessible to the trucks of the buying companies.

On the continental coast protected by Chiloé southeast of Puerto Montt there are Gracilaria beds in Palena and Tic-toc Bay; these may be the largest beds in the country and comparable to those of Piedra Azul. However, it seems that these beaches are neither surveyed nor harvested. As they are within the area of strong tidal amplitude they might be suitable for hand-harvesting during low tides, and provide very high qualities. In the “seno Otwey” there are banks of Ahnfeltia which have been surveyed for a private company (data unavailable).

The new road through the X and XI Regions shortly to be opened will radically influence the possibilities of exploiting this area. It could be anticipated that the opening of the road will be followed by regional planning efforts. A resource development programme should include a survey of these shores which can be expected to reserve seaweed in quantities of importance for the economy of the X Region, and for employment. As winter is more pronounced in the south, seaweed harvesting is expected to be more seasonal than in central Chile. Social problems could be avoided if already at the planning stage seaweed harvesting could be coordinated with, e.g., lumbering during winter.

Another neglected area is the archipelagoes. For Easter Island there is only one document (Børgesen, 1920), for San Felix and San Ambrosio three pages (Levring, 1942). Around Easter Island the benthic seaweed resources are rich enough to play a role in the development of the area. The islands are surrounded by Macrocystis.

For valid reasons the emphasis of academic studies has been on the five commercial genera, and mainly on Gracilaria. There is no literature on Ahnfeltia, Gymnogongrus, Gigartina and Chondrus, which could also possibly be commercialized (it is not even known if the Chondrus-like species is a Chondrus or a similar species). A real drawback for theoretical as well as practical approaches is the lack of a determination handbook on the marine flora, preferably two handbooks. Santelices (1978) reports 350 species of benthonic algae in continental Chile, further large numbers in the Pacific Islands and in the Territorio Antárctico Chileno. This means that a complete list of flora would be useful only for specialists. For new phycologists a popular field guide containing only the 50–100 most frequent species, written and illustrated for beginners, would be more helpful.

A project to fill these gaps in knowledge and to establish baselines for seaweed investigations and surveys should in the long run have a fundamental impact on the utilization of Chilean seaweed resources.

1.2.4 The Problem of Possible Decrease in Biomass

During the last two years, the Gracilaria beds on Isla Santa María have been decreasing and when the author was there on 6 November 1981 the fishermen reported that they were expecting to be able to collect only one tenth of the authorized concession.

Overharvesting could be a possible reason. The fishermen, however, offered many other explanations, and first of all blamed the enormous quantities of fish eggs (of “pejerrey”, Odontestes) which make the Gracilaria plants sink to bottom. Plants with eggs have to be removed, also because the eggs increase the humidity of the product. As the bed is a restricted area and the spawning a restricted period, it would be possible to decrease the excess quantities of eggs through a reasonable fishing effort against pejerrey. However, it seems that there is no great demand for pejerrey, and the fishermen prefer to seek for high-price species.

Later in the season, a small red mussel (Gaimardia) appears in such abundance that the plants sink to bottom and much labour is required to obtain a commercial product from that harvest.

The fish eggs and mussels have long been present in the Gracilaria beds. Unfortunately, during the last two or three years, the quantities have increased considerably. This increase must be related to a change in the environment, for instance the disappearance of some predators on eggs or fry of pejerrey and on the mussel larvae. The fishermen suspect the cellulose industry in Arauco as the water in the Gulf of Arauco circulates such that, in their opinion, a water mass outside Arauco could reach the Gracilaria beaches of Isla Santa María. The industry employs the sulfite method and could possibly influence upon the pH or the smell of the recipient seawater so as to cause an avoidance reaction in certain species. However, the cellulose industry has been operating for ten years.

Harvesters without boats carry ashore large quantities of kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) and other algae (Desmarestia herbacea?); Desmarestia has a strong acidity and unpleasant smell. It is reported to have increased in quantity lately. As Desmarestia and Gracilaria are competing species on the same bottoms, and if Desmarestia has gained space during the last years, this could also be a possible explanation for the decrease in Gracilaria. A study has shown that Desmarestia has a short growth period compared to Gracilaria, but that the Desmarestia peak coincides with that of Gracilaria and where both species are found together the Gracilaria peak is seriously decreased.

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