Patagonian toothfish, aka Chilean seabass, is a big fish that can weigh 100 pounds headed-and-gutted although the average is closer to 20 pounds. The fish tends to be processed and frozen at sea. It’s then sometimes sold “refreshed” headed-and-gutted, as loins and skinless fillets. Most commonly it’s sold frozen in skinless fillets or headed-and-gutted. The meat is tender, moist and moderately oily with large, thick flakes. When raw the meat will be snow white and when cooked it will stay white. Look for refreshed fillets that are shiny and avoid frozen seabass that has discoloration or freezer burn. Alaskan sablefish can be an affordable, widely available substitute for Chilean seabass.
Patagonian toothfish, marketed as Chilean Seabass, is a large, slow-growing deep-sea species found around the Southern Hemisphere, primarily off the coasts of Chile, Argentina and around sub-Antarctic islands. The species has been vulnerable to over-exploitation and its high commercial value has made it a constant target of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. A 2013 Monterey Bay Aquarium report indicated that Patagonian toothfish stocks around South Georgia, Heard and McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island and the Falkland Islands are abundant. Stocks in the Ross Sea appear to be doing well but there was uncertainty about the measurements. The Prince Edward and Marion Islands stocks were depleted, Crozet stocks were unassessed and highly vulnerable, while the Chilean fishery was assessed as being overfished.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Until the mid-1990s most Patagonian toothfish was caught using bottom trawl gear. This causes significant damage to the seafloor habitat and has a negative impact on ocean life for years afterward. Now most Patagonian toothfish are caught with longline gear and some are caught with pots, gear that’s less destructive. However some fisheries still employ trawl gear.
Although the switch from bottom trawl to longline gear has changed the impact on the seafloor, demersal longline fishing in the Patagonian toothfish fishery has accidentally killed numerous seabirds. Threatened or endangered species captured include black-browed albatross, grey-headed albatross, rockhopper penguin, white-chinned petrel, yellownose skate and the porbeagle shark, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Management measures have had success in reducing seabird bycatch to low levels although illegal fishing vessels lack even basic bycatch mitigation.
Management policies vary depending on the Patagonian toothfish fishery but the primary management body for Patagonian toothfish is the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources or CCAMLR, established in 1982. The Commission has substantial management measures in place that include catch limits, fishery closures, gear restrictions, population assessments, and 100% scientific observer coverage. The Commission has also had success in reducing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing since dedicated efforts began in 2000, but the practices persist on the Banzare bank in the Western Indian Ocean.