Chilean Sea Bass: Food For Thought

toothfish, chilean sea bassCompiled by Newsbyrd Staff –

(The 4th of July, 2012)  The Patagonian toothfish is the most valuable fishery in Antarctic or sub Antarctic waters. Commercially and in restaurants it is sold as Chilean Sea Bass. Prices can exceed $US10 per kilo for headed, gutted and tailed fish in the main markets in Japan and the United States. Unlike nearly all other Antarctic fish, the toothfish can grow to a large size (just over 2 m long and 100 kg in weight) and this, together with its high quality white flesh and few bones, make it highly sought after – particularly given the growing scarcity of other premium-quality species from around the world.

This has led in the last few years to a large-scale illegal fishery, which attempts to poach fish from the major areas of distribution of the Chilean sea bass around the sub Antarctic islands and other submarine ridges in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean sectors of the Southern Ocean. Large numbers of vessels fishing illegally were first noticed in 1996 in the western part of the Indian Ocean, but they soon spread eastwards towards Kerguelen and Heard Islands where they were seen by Australian and French licensed vessels in 1997. Although difficult to estimate reliably, it is thought that illegal catches were very high in these first couple of years – possibly two to three times the legal catch of this species from all sources – and probably caused a significant depletion of the fish stock in some localities.

This led Greenpeace International to add the Chilean sea bass to its seafood red list in 2010. “The Greenpeace International seafood red list is a list of fish that are commonly sold in supermarkets around the world, and which have a very high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries.

The Chilean sea bass is also listed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium on its Seafood Watch list and pocket guides as a fish to avoid due to overfishing and high levels of mercury.

Many stores today are offering “certified sustainable Chilean sea bass” but according to DNA analysis by Clemson University researchers, 15% of Chilean sea bass labeled as sustainable and sold at U.S. grocers did not come from the certified fishery.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an international organization that recognizes eco-friendly fishing practices, has certified about 8,000 seafood products. These are confirmed to have been harvested from sustainable fisheries, where strict protocols protect species against overfishing and ensure that the fish can continue to propagate in healthy numbers.

As far as Chilean sea bass goes, only one fishery, located near South Georgia Island in the sub-Antarctic, is MSC certified.

Although distribution of Chilean sea bass is fairly wide spread in the Southern Ocean, only recently have commercial vessels ventured into the Ross Sea, adjoining Antarctica, to harvest the valuable fish.

The Ross Sea is said to be one of the last totally pristine ecosystems in the world, which has prompted groups like “The Last Ocean” to unite scientists, environmental groups and individuals alike in promoting the Ross Sea as a designated Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Posted by at July 4, 2012
Filed in category: Environment, and tagged with: , ,

Comments are closed.