U.S. Chefs Join Campaign to Save Chilean Sea Bass

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
May 22, 2002

Most Americans have never heard of the Patagonian Toothfish. But many have enjoyed its moist, white flesh at upscale seafood restaurants across the nation. The fish is commonly known in the United States by a name devised to increase its marketability—Chilean sea bass.

Ten years ago, Chilean sea bass was virtually unknown in the United States, but since then the fish has become a staple on many upscale menus. Increasingly dire warnings suggest that the trendy toothfish has become too popular for its own good. Environmentalists warn that unless demand is reduced, the fish may face commercial extinction in as little as five years.

Steadily declining annual catches have signaled trouble, and led environmental groups to partner with some of the chefs who first popularized the dish in a campaign to reduce demand for the toothfish. The goal of the "Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass" campaign is to encourage chefs to remove the beleaguered fish from their menus until populations begin to recover from widespread and dangerous overfishing, most of which is done by illegal "pirate" fishing boats.

Chefs Agree to Stop Serving Toothfish

So far, more than 700 chefs nationwide have agreed to give the prehistoric-looking fish a break.

"Chefs are the opinion leaders of the food world," said Andrea Kavanagh, campaign manager for the National Environmental Trust (NET), which is spearheading the campaign. "We began with six cities, premier U.S. dining markets, and asked chefs to agree to stop serving the fish until populations began to recover. Now chefs in other cities are coming to us to sign up, and taking Chilean sea bass of their menus."

Restaurant sales account for some 70 percent of the Chilean sea bass consumed in the United States. Kavanagh also hopes, however, to involve consumers in the program and encourage them not to purchase the fish at their local markets.

By drastically reducing demand for the fish, the campaign hopes to curb the illegal fishing that threatens the survival of the species.

One chef who signed on to the campaign is Cesare Casella, of the acclaimed Tuscan restaurant Beppe in New York City's Flatiron district. "The chefs were responsible for creating a trend," said Casella, "but if we can stop the use of Chilean sea bass the demand will drop for the illegal fish.

"I started to use Chilean sea bass in 1992 or 1993 and it was a great fish, a beautiful fish," he continued. "In the last few years they have been getting smaller and smaller, while the quality is getting worse. Now, most of the Chilean sea bass on the market is illegal, and it has been frozen. I agree 100 percent with the campaign to improve the stocks of this fish for the future."

"Pirates" Fish With No Regulation

Continued on Next Page >>




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