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February 22, 08

NEWS / Chilean Sea Bass Frequently Asked Questions

The public is rightly concerned about the health and abundance of fish making its way into the American seafood market. Chilean sea bass is gaining a popular following now that it is offered in many restaurants and supermarkets. Conscientious consumers want to know that the Chilean sea bass they buy is legally caught and safe to eat. This fact sheet will help make an educated choice.

Why Is This Fish Called Chilean Sea Bass?

Chilean sea bass is actually two different closely related deep-water species also known as Patagonian toothfish and Antarctic toothfish, caught in Southern Ocean waters near and around Antarctica. The Chileans were the first to market toothfish commercially in the United States, earning it the name Chilean sea bass, although it is really not a bass and it is not always caught in Chilean waters. It is a different species type than the sea bass caught in U.S. waters. Because of its white meat appeal, Chilean sea bass usually fetches premium prices in specialty markets and high-end restaurants. It is a deep-water fish that can live up to 50 years and grow to weigh over 200 pounds.

Is Chilean Sea Bass An Endangered Species?

No. There has been a large decrease in Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing within the Southern Ocean. But any unreported catches from illegal fishing of this valuable fish, however, make effective management difficult. In 2000, more than 16,000 tons of Chilean sea bass were legally harvested in the Antarctic management area. Estimates vary, but there may have been up to twice that amount taken illegally. In the 2006/07 season 13,704 tons of Chilean sea bass were legally harvested in Antarctic waters and the estimated IUU harvest was 3,615 tons, a 70% reduction from the 2001/02, 2002/03 seasons. Therefore, some of the efforts to monitor and deter IUU fishing of Chilean sea bass seem to be working. Some Chilean sea bass fisheries are managed in a responsible manner, but there are some areas where the species has been, and continues to be, overfished.

How Is Chilean Sea Bass Currently Managed?

A 25-country commission (the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) responsible for conserving fish resources within Antarctic waters is helping to conserve Chilean sea bass through the implementation of catch limits and other management measures. As an active member of the Commission, the United States participates in these conservation and management decisions for Chilean sea bass in Antarctica. Individual governments regulate the Chilean sea bass fisheries within their own national waters.

Is Chilean Sea Bass Trade Regulated in the United States?

Yes. In order to address the problem of illegal fishing, the Commission has adopted a measure requiring that all imports of Chilean sea bass be accompanied by a document verifying that the fish were caught legally. NOAA Fisheries recently adopted new regulations requiring electronic catch documents (ECDS) only for all Chilean sea bass shipments seeking entry into the United States as well as the requirement that the fishing vessels involved participate in the new Centralized Vessel Monitoring System (C-VMS). This is an improvement and further bolsters the previous, and still active, requirement for Chilean sea bass imports to possess a valid dealer permit issued by NOAA as well as a pre-approval for all frozen product. The only exception to the C-VMS requirement is the artisanal fisheries of Chile and Peru. Over 90% of the fresh Chilean sea bass entering the United States market is from the artisanal fishery in Chile. Therefore, the United States continues to work closely with Chile to ensure that Chilean sea bass imported from there has been legally caught and is properly documented.

Is It Okay For Me To Purchase and Consume Chilean Sea Bass?

Yes, but ask questions. U.S. regulations only allow imports of Chilean sea bass that are caught within legal limits and that provide for the sustainable use and conservation of the fishery resource. However, some illegally harvested Chilean sea bass does enter the United States. Restaurateurs and consumers should ask questions before buying Chilean sea bass to ensure that the fish being purchased were legally harvested.

What Can Restaurateurs Do to Ensure They Are Buying Legal Chilean Sea Bass?

Restaurateurs should insist that their fish brokers verify the source of their Chilean sea bass and buy the fish only if you are shown the proper documentation, such as a copy of the approval for each shipment that the brokers receive from NOAA.

What Can Consumers Do to Ensure They Are Buying Legal Chilean Sea Bass?

Ask the seller to verify that the fish was legally caught, in accordance with management provisions of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Even if the seller does not know, the fact that the question was asked will send a message to distributors that consumers are aware of, and concerned about, the problem of illegal fishing and imports.

How is Chilean Sea Bass Legally Caught and Marketed?

Mostly by hooks attached to long-lines, strung behind fishing boats. Some Chilean sea bass is caught in waters off the coast of Chile, then iced and shipped to the United States fresh. However, the majority of Chilean sea bass is harvested in distant waters of Antarctica, frozen onboard factory vessels, and shipped several weeks to several months later. Both fresh and frozen Chilean sea bass are available for consumption in the United States.

Who Fishes For Chilean Sea Bass? Who Consumes It?

Argentina, France, Chile, Australia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Korea and Uruguay are the primary countries harvesting Chilean sea bass. They fish in the waters of Antarctica and in the national waters of nearby countries. The United States, Japan, and the European Union are the major markets of choice.

How Much Chilean Sea Bass Does the U.S. Import?

The United States imports about 10,000 tons of fresh and frozen Chilean sea bass every year; in 2006 this was approximately 44% percent of the worldwide Chilean sea bass catch.

For Additional Information

On the U.S. import control program, contact Kim Dawson-Guynn, National Seafood Inspection Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Department of Commerce, at 228-769-8964.

On the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, contact the Office of Oceans Affairs, U.S. Department of State, at 202-647-3262.

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