THE FISH PICTURED BELOW WAS ABOUT 100 POUNDS. BUT THE PREFERRED MARKET SIZE IS ABOUT TEN POUNDS. THAT MEANS WE ARE HARVESTING THIS SPECIES SO CRITICAL TO ANTARCTIC WATERS AT JUST ABOUT THE SIZE WHERE THEY ARE JUST STARTING TO BE ABLE TO REPRODUCE. ICHTHYOLOGISTS (FISH GEEKS) SAY THE POPULATION CAN NOT SUSTAIN THE CURRENT LEVEL OF FISHING PRESSURE
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| Dissostichus mawsoni the Antarctic toothfish (Image : Photograph by Paul Cziko, supported by US-NSF through the DeVries-Cheng Lab at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Chamnpaign. License: GNU Free Documentation License. |
The Antarctic tooth fish has a close cousin that lives a bit farther north , the "Chilean Tooth Fish". You've never heard of them? No, you probably haven't. That's because in the market and on the menu both species are called "Chilean SeA Bass". These fish can grow to 300 pounds and live as long as 50 years. But they take 10 years to reach sexual maturity and that age coincides with the preferred "market size". So common sense tells us that the international commercial fishing fleets that pursue and market these two species are literally harvesting the next breeding generation. No fishery can long sustain that kind of pressure. Our best available research indicates that both species are in serious trouble. For the Antarctic waters around the Ross Ice Shelf this is especially troubling. Few large fish can live in these waters. The Antarctic Toothfish literally has blood that acts like antifreeze. Not all of the sea and amphibious life of the Antarctic lives on krill (shrimp like critters) numerous species like the Leopard Seal and the Okra need larger protein sources and the fish depicted above is about it when the sea mammals aren't eating each other.
in 2011-12, the last season for which we could find records; apparently 15 ships from 6 nations participated in the legal catch and took 3,500 metric tons of Antarctic tooth fish from the Ross Ice Shelf, a level of catch that scientists are starting to say is unsustainable. Unfortunately perhaps as much as 80 % of the catch reaching market for both species marketed as "Chilean Sea Bass" is illegally caught. This is a deep sea fishery conducted in international waters and very tough to regulate. The catch per hook weight has nearly been reduced by half just in the last two seasons. As the fish being landed shrink in numbers and size the price per pound has climbed ( last figure we had was about $25 per pound). As usual, governments are barely aware of the issue but help for the species is coming from an unexpected quarter, U.S. Chefs.
U.S. Chefs are urging their customers to by pass "Chilean Sea Bass" until science has shown the populations are on the rebound and regulations and real workable enforcement programs are in place to assure that Chilean Sea Bass can be a sustained yield fishery. Sport fishermen can help the species recover by educating your non fishing friends, family, neighbors and co workers about the danger to this fish population and the danger its low population poses to other Antarctic species including sea mammals. We have many sport fishermen readers around the world and perhaps they could help start an EU, Latin American, and Asian Chef boycott of the species until the population has recovered and an effective regulatory program is in place. Yes, such a boycott will hurt the legal fishermen who are obeying the current rules, but the hook weight data tells us the population is in serious trouble. The law abiding fishermen will only be in worse trouble if the fishery disappears. Join the U.S. Chefs Campaign and avoid consumption of "Chilean Sea Bass". Sport fishermen are by nature fish conservationist and have saved more than one game fish species from the brink of extinction before. Give the environmentalists a hand and help save this commercial species.
ANTARCTIC RESOURCES POLICY