The Truth About Chilean Seabass

Patagonian Toothfish - AKA Chilean Sea Bass by USDAChilean Sea Bass (or "Mero" as it is called in Japan) is a long-lived, deep ocean fish known by biologists as Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides). The species is being over-fished to the point where the fishery is likely to collapse within a few years. Many parts of the southern oceans having already been depleted to the point where they are no longer commercially viable.


Not only is the fish itself threatened due to this fishery, but thousands of albatrosses and other seabirds are being killed when they are hooked and drowned by longline vessels pursuing toothfish. Some of these birds are on their way to extinction unless the fishery is either closed, or substantially reformed. Although an international agreement (CCAMLR: the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) limits toothfish quotas, and requires the use of bird scaring devices that keep birds away from hooks, approximately 50% of the world's toothfish still comes from illegal "pirate" vessels that ignore quotas and do not use seabird avoidance measures. Up to 333,000 seabirds, including 67,000 albatrosses, were killed between 1997 and 2000 in this pirate fishery. Some of the species involved are threatened with extinction as a result. The conservation convention only applies to Antarctic waters. The toothfish is also caught further north where the rules do not apply. The U.S. is the world's second largest market after Japan for this fish. According to TRAFFIC International, a conservation group that monitors international trade in wildlife, during 2000, 28% of all tooth-fish imported into the U.S. came from countries that have not signed the convention, some of which are known to regularly provide port facilities to pirate vessels.


Some U.S. stores, including Whole Food Markets, have already stopped selling this fish out of concern for fish stocks. Because it is impossible for consumers to discern between fish from pirate and regulated fisheries, American Bird Conservancy is calling on retailers, restaurants, and consumers not to purchase "Chilean sea bass" until the U.S. government can assure us that all imported toothfish is from sustainable, regulated, legal fisheries, that do not harm albatrosses and other seabirds. Although the pirate "Chilean sea bass" fishery is not the only one that kills seabirds and depletes fish stocks, it is among the worst. All U.S. domestic fisheries are regulated and provide numerous excellent alternatives.


Please feel free to duplicate and distribute this fact sheet from American Bird Conservancy. Several other environmental groups also have serious concerns over the Patagonian toothfish fishery. More information can be obtained from: National Environmental Trust (NET), Antarctica Project, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, TRAFFIC International