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Is Chilean Sea Bass Endangered?

Chilean sea bass is one of many species at risk because of overfishing.
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  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2014
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The short answer to this question is no, but the real story is a bit more complex. Although Chilean sea bass does not meet legal standards for listing as an endangered species, the health of the fishery for this popular food fish is questionable. As a result, many organizations that promote sustainable fishing suggest that people avoid eating this fish in favor of favor of other white fish like halibut, Atlantic herring, barramundi, or Pacific halibut.

Before embarking on a discussion of how endangered this fish really is, it may help to know what a Chilean sea bass is, since this fish is not a bass or a native of Chile. Its scientific name is Dissostichus eleginoides, and the more proper common name is toothfish or Patagonian toothfish. The fish prefer the deep waters of the South Pacific, and while they can be found off the coast of Chile, they were at one point widely distributed in other parts of the ocean as well.

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Several things put this species at risk from overfishing. They are very slow to mature, and they tend to group together while spawning, making them easy prey for fishing trawlers. Studies on the fish have shown a steady decline in population, indicating that their popularity as a food fish has put a great deal of pressure on the population. The publicization of the plight of the fish has ironically also driven up the rate of illegal poaching, which pressures the species even more since poached fish is not regulated or counted in national quotas.

Most regulatory agencies classify Chilean sea bass as “overfished,” which means that it is not officially endangered, but it might be heading that way. Some people have suggested that this fish has become a political issue, and that it is not listed as a legally threatened species due to pressure from the fishing industry. This accusation is hard to prove, as it is clear that studies on the fish and regulation of its population have been very difficult to perform, making it hard to legally list the fish as threatened.

Consumers are asked to consider alternate choices because it is difficult to determine whether or not an individual fish has been legally harvested. By reducing overall demand, activists hope to reduce the appeal of poaching, which would reduce pressure on these fish and allow them to recover. Many prominent restauranteurs have joined forces to champion the cause of the Chilean sea bass, and to alert consumers to fishery conservation issues in general.

US consumers who want to make more informed choices about their fish might want to look up the website of the Marine Stewardship Council. This group certifies fish that are harvested in a sustainable and healthy way. More information about food choices can be found at Seafood Watch, an organization run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Seafood Watch also has a useful pocket-sized chart of fish choices that can be taken to restaurants and grocery stores.

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anon239360
Post 4

This is the most delicious fish I've ever eaten and it's one of my favorite foods ever. I wonder why it can't be bred for food. Obviously, I'm not a biologist or an oceanographer...

anon36978
Post 3

Bananas,

I'm glad to see that the only value you see in this fish, which is highly critical to the diets of many coastal sea birds and other animals, is how tasty it is for you. You might not be able to afford it, but its high cost makes it very tempting to poachers, so as long as there is demand it will be illegally fished. Also, this article failed to mention that it is often fish in a way that causes damage to the sea floor and/or kills other animals.

Anne9784
Post 2

A restaurant featured Chilean Sea Bass on its specials menu this past week. I asked, and the chef says it is fished off the coast of Alaska. Does this sound right?

bananas
Post 1

Once or twice I had Chilean Sea Bass. It must be one of the best fish I ever ate. You can get it in high end grocery stores, but be prepared to pay a lot of money.

I suppose because it is overly fished, there is a restriction on how much Sea Bass can be caught. I hope fishermen follow the rules and do not catch more then they are allowed to. We would not want to loose this wonderfully tasting fish, even if we can indulge only once in a blue moon, or possibly once in a lifetime.

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