Chilean Sea Bass, Dissostichus eleginoides

The Chilean sea bass is the North American name for the Patagonian toothfish. The Chilean sea bass name derived in 1977 from Lee Lantz, a fish wholesaler looking for a more attractive name for the American fish market. In 1994 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accepted the Chilean sea bass as an alternative name for the Patagonian toothfish.

This species is native to the southern Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, around seamounts and continental shelves in the colder waters. The adult lives on the ocean floor in depths from 150 to 12,500 feet or more, while the juvenile of this species will stay at depths less than 1,300 feet.

The average weight for the Chilean sea bass commercially caught is 15 – 22 lbs, with some weighing up to 220 lbs and 7.5 feet in length. The dorsal fin has 8 spines with 28 – 30 soft rays, and the anal fin has 28 – 30 soft rays but no spines. The life span of this fish is thought to be up to 50 years.

Juveniles will stay in the shallower water until 6 – 7 years of age feeding on a variety of small prey. As the Chilean sea bass ages it will slowly migrate to deeper water and the diet of this fish will change also to include squid, crustaceans, and other fish.

The Chilean sea bass will spawn in deep water when it is winter in the southern hemisphere. At about 1 year of age the larvae will become a bottom dweller in shallower water around 1,300 feet.

The Chilean sea bass is a popular food dish and in the 1990’s to the early 2000’s illegal fishing of this species was at an all-time high, but with the crackdown on this operation it has almost been eliminated. Recently this fish has been put on a ‘fish to avoid list’ because of the high content of mercury. In 2010 Greenpeace International added this species to the seafood red list of fish with a high risk of being from sub-par fisheries.

However, the Patagonian toothfish is still on the market from several certified and sustainable fisheries, according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which oversees the toothfish industry. These include the Heard Island and MacDonald Islands Fishery, the Macquarie Island Fishery and the South Georgia Longline Fishery. A fourth fishery, The Ross Sea Longline Fishery, mainly takes Antarctic Toothfish, a relative of the Patagonian.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Perciformes

Family: Nototheniidae

Image Credit: US FDA/Wikipedia