Throughout the world, environmental assessments (EAs) are used to determine likely impacts of large scale projects and activities on the environment. The Chilean environmental assessment system (SEIA) has been in place for roughly 20 years, and during that time, Chile has constructed many water projects (including dams and canals), and aquaculture (especially salmon aquaculture) has boomed. With a dearth of information about native freshwater fishes, one question that came to mind was to see how large-scale projects (that are known to have significant deleterious impacts on freshwater fishes throughout the world) could assess their potential impacts to a freshwater fish fauna that was so poorly defined.
In Chile, EAs are split into two basic categories: Declaraciones de Impacto Ambiental (DIAs) and Estodios de Impacto Ambiental (EIAs). DIAs represented the vast majority of all water projects and aquaculture activities (i.e., >90%), and – of the subsample assessed – none contained any characterization or assessment of freshwater fishes. EIAs for aquaculture activities also contained no characterization freshwater fishes or assessments of impacts to freshwater fishes. In contrast, of 33 EIAs for water projects, 21 contained some sort of characterization of freshwater fishes, but there was no standardization of methodologies, there was evidence of misidentification of fishes, and no (apparent) assessment of potential issues associated with the sampling gear used. Furthermore, only 2 contained any quantitative assessment of potential impacts to characterized fishes. In all, less than 1% of all EAs in aquaculture and water projects included any characterization of freshwater fishes that could be affected by the project, less than 0.1% quantitatively assessed the impacts of the project in question to local fishes, and none assessed impacts to the larger watershed.
The general assessment of the Chilean EA process is that is is not currently set up to characterize resident freshwater fishes or assess impacts to those fishes due to the projects in question. It also is not currently set up to assess the larger impacts of projects within a watershed context (let alone a multi-watershed context, as in the case of salmon aquaculture). However, recent and current programs at the ministerial level toward increased sustainable development – in addition to movement on a biodiversity conservation law – imply potential for change to include freshwater fish conservation at various stages of territorial and site planning.
The manuscript for this evaluation is currently under review.