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Is Chilean Sea Bass Endangered?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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The short answer to this question is no, but the real story is a bit more complex. Although Chilean sea bass does not meet legal standards for listing as an endangered species, the health of the fishery for this popular food fish is questionable. As a result, many organizations that promote sustainable fishing suggest that people avoid eating this fish in favor of favor of other white fish like halibut, Atlantic herring, barramundi, or Pacific halibut.

Before embarking on a discussion of how endangered this fish really is, it may help to know what a Chilean sea bass is, since this fish is not a bass or a native of Chile. Its scientific name is Dissostichus eleginoides, and the more proper common name is toothfish or Patagonian toothfish. The fish prefer the deep waters of the South Pacific, and while they can be found off the coast of Chile, they were at one point widely distributed in other parts of the ocean as well.

Several things put this species at risk from overfishing. They are very slow to mature, and they tend to group together while spawning, making them easy prey for fishing trawlers. Studies on the fish have shown a steady decline in population, indicating that their popularity as a food fish has put a great deal of pressure on the population. The publicization of the plight of the fish has ironically also driven up the rate of illegal poaching, which pressures the species even more since poached fish is not regulated or counted in national quotas.

Most regulatory agencies classify Chilean sea bass as “overfished,” which means that it is not officially endangered, but it might be heading that way. Some people have suggested that this fish has become a political issue, and that it is not listed as a legally threatened species due to pressure from the fishing industry. This accusation is hard to prove, as it is clear that studies on the fish and regulation of its population have been very difficult to perform, making it hard to legally list the fish as threatened.

Consumers are asked to consider alternate choices because it is difficult to determine whether or not an individual fish has been legally harvested. By reducing overall demand, activists hope to reduce the appeal of poaching, which would reduce pressure on these fish and allow them to recover. Many prominent restaurateurs have joined forces to champion the cause of the Chilean sea bass, and to alert consumers to fishery conservation issues in general.

US consumers who want to make more informed choices about their fish might want to look up the website of the Marine Stewardship Council. This group certifies fish that are harvested in a sustainable and healthy way. More information about food choices can be found at Seafood Watch, an organization run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Seafood Watch also has a useful pocket-sized chart of fish choices that can be taken to restaurants and grocery stores.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Chilean Sea Bass an endangered species?

Chilean Sea Bass, also known as Patagonian Toothfish, is not currently listed as endangered. However, it has been overfished in the past, leading to significant population declines. Conservation measures have been implemented to manage and recover stocks, but it remains a species of concern for many environmental organizations.

What threats does the Chilean Sea Bass face?

The primary threat to Chilean Sea Bass is overfishing, driven by high market demand, particularly in high-end restaurants. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing has also significantly impacted their populations. Additionally, climate change and the resulting shifts in ocean conditions pose long-term threats to their habitat.

How can consumers make sustainable choices when purchasing Chilean Sea Bass?

Consumers looking to make sustainable choices should seek out Chilean Sea Bass that has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or similar organizations. These certifications ensure that the fish comes from fisheries that follow strict sustainability standards and management practices to minimize environmental impact.

What are the conservation measures in place for Chilean Sea Bass?

Conservation measures for Chilean Sea Bass include catch limits, seasonal closures, and gear restrictions to reduce bycatch. International cooperation through the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has been crucial in establishing these measures and monitoring compliance to protect the species.

How does illegal fishing affect the Chilean Sea Bass population?

Illegal fishing undermines conservation efforts by exceeding catch limits and using prohibited methods, which can lead to overfishing and population decline. It also skews scientific data, making it difficult to assess the true status of the species and to implement effective management strategies.

What is the current population trend of the Chilean Sea Bass?

While exact population numbers are challenging to determine due to the species' wide distribution, recent conservation efforts have helped stabilize some populations of Chilean Sea Bass. However, due to previous overfishing and ongoing illegal activities, certain areas still report declining trends, necessitating continued vigilance and management.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon239360 — On Jan 08, 2012

This is the most delicious fish I've ever eaten and it's one of my favorite foods ever. I wonder why it can't be bred for food. Obviously, I'm not a biologist or an oceanographer...

By anon36978 — On Jul 16, 2009


I'm glad to see that the only value you see in this fish, which is highly critical to the diets of many coastal sea birds and other animals, is how tasty it is for you. You might not be able to afford it, but its high cost makes it very tempting to poachers, so as long as there is demand it will be illegally fished. Also, this article failed to mention that it is often fish in a way that causes damage to the sea floor and/or kills other animals.

By Anne9784 — On Feb 14, 2009

A restaurant featured Chilean Sea Bass on its specials menu this past week. I asked, and the chef says it is fished off the coast of Alaska. Does this sound right?

By bananas — On May 17, 2008

Once or twice I had Chilean Sea Bass. It must be one of the best fish I ever ate. You can get it in high end grocery stores, but be prepared to pay a lot of money.

I suppose because it is overly fished, there is a restriction on how much Sea Bass can be caught. I hope fishermen follow the rules and do not catch more then they are allowed to. We would not want to loose this wonderfully tasting fish, even if we can indulge only once in a blue moon, or possibly once in a lifetime.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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