Foodie wants to know: Where have all the tasty sea bass gone?

We are seeing fewer restaurants featuring Chilean Sea bass (Patagonian Toothfish). The popularity of the fish has not diminished, with official 2000 catch of 15,000 metric tons (33 million pounds) contrasting with 1990’s catch of 6,000 metric tons (13.2 million pounds).

  • Friday, June 13, 2008 6:11pm
  • Life

We are seeing fewer restaurants featuring Chilean Sea bass (Patagonian Toothfish). The popularity of the fish has not diminished, with official 2000 catch of 15,000 metric tons (33 million pounds) contrasting with 1990’s catch of 6,000 metric tons (13.2 million pounds).

This thick, solid, white meat fish is perfect for the hard-hitting world of food service. It’s a dream product in that it looks beautiful on the plate, the flavor is not too fishy, its oil content is very high, making it almost foolproof to cook with any method used or trend that has to be followed. This is why the United States brought 9,500 metric tons across its borders in 2000, most being used in food service.

The consequence of its popularity is overfishing, legally and illegally, in the cold waters of the Antarctic Ocean. A 24 country commission (The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) has the responsibility of overseeing the catch limits for the area that the Toothfish lives, and the United States is a member. The fishing limit was set at 15,000 metric tons for 2000, yet some estimate that the total amount of the catch was 90,000 metric tons, most of that being illegally caught. This has led to the drastic decline in Toothfish population. The largest factor for the decline is the 10 years it takes for the Toothfish reach sexual maturity, not allowing the population to recover.

With the Toothfish population at a dramatic crossroads and the likelihood of the Chilean Sea bass being a poached product, restaurant owners have been taking the moral high ground and taking the fish off the menu. This is not an economic choice. Some chefs have been serving Pacific sea bass from deep in Russian waters near Alaska as a substitute that is being well received.

I don’t feel the majority of the U.S. population knows the plight of the Toothfish. Some estimate the Toothfish has only two more years of commercial viability. This would mean that it would be about 100 to 150 years before the population of Toothfish would be able to be harvested again.

If you are not in a position to take Chilean Sea bass off the menu, you may be able to ask your vendor if they know if the bass has been harvested in accordance with management provisions of the Convention of Antarctic Marine Living Resourses. This simple question can send a large wave through the wholesale fishing industry.

Federal Way resident Gary Robins loves food and wine. Contact: grrobins@earthlink.net.




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