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What is the Patagonian Toothfish?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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Patagonian toothfish are a bottom-feeding species that live in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans near Antarctica. Also known as Chilean sea bass, these fish are valued for their firm, white meat and high oil content, making them a popular choice in upscale restaurants in several countries. Patagonian toothfish are monitored because they are caught, often illegally, faster than they can reproduce. An international agency surveys, researches, and regulates Patagonian toothfish caught in vast and remote oceans.

The Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) works to protect Patagonian toothfish from exploitation. The agency records legal and illegal catches of the fish and studies the sustainability of the species due to overfishing. Conservation and regulation of this fish began in 2000 as the popularity of Chilean sea bass grew.

Patagonian toothfish can live up to 50 years but do not begin breeding until they are about 10 years old. Compared to other species, female Patagonian toothfish spawn fewer eggs, which float on the surface of the sea and take about three months to hatch. Toothfish breed their entire lives, but might be unable to reproduce fast enough to counter the number of fish taken by commercial fisheries.

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Commercial fishing methods for toothfish are also monitored. Some fisheries use trawling and longlines to snag Patagonian toothfish. Trawling near the ocean floor can destroy habitat used by other sea life for shelter and breeding, including sea turtles. Trawling nets also commonly trap young fish and turtles that are discarded as waste.

Longlines employ a main fishing line that is often up to 50 miles (80 km) long. Hundreds of shorter lines fitted with hooks and bait rest near the bottom of the sea or float near the surface. The longlines routinely snag albatross, a large seabird that is considered endangered and which travels long distances over open water. The albatross usually drowns when it attempts to eat bait on longlines. This fishing technique also poses a danger to sea turtles and sharks if they get trapped in the lines.

Patagonian toothfish represent a multimillion dollar industry in several countries. Fishing for the species may provide the main source of income for fishermen in Argentina, Chile, and other South American regions. Chile exports the bulk of this seafood, which is sold whole after being gutted and beheaded, as fresh fillets or frozen. The CCAMLR states more than a dozen nations may illegally fish for this species by using unapproved methods, fishing out of season, and exceeding regulatory limits.

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