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Fishing for Trouble (video)
February 13, 2003

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Interviewees: John Sundstrom, Earth and Ocean, Seattle; Steven Webster, Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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Produced by Jack Penland

Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc., with additional footage from National Environmental Trust.

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Tipping the Scales - Eating fish may be healthy for you, but eating some kinds of fish may not be healthy for the environment. Some species of fish are so depleted they are now in danger of disappearing from markets and restaurants. (11/9/00)

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Seafood Choices Alliance

EcoFish, Inc.

National Marine Fisheries Service

Johnathan Sundstrom's seared sea scallops recipe

There's a campaign underway to get leading restaurants in the U.S. to stop serving some kinds of fish.

As this ScienCentral News video reports, both marine biologists and chefs themselves are working together to give some fish a break.


The menu at Seattle’s Earth and Ocean Restaurant often features items ranging from Big Eye Tuna Carpaccio to wild boar to truffle fries. But there’s one thing you won’t find: Chilean Sea Bass. Executive chef Johnathan Sundstrom says even though the fish is very popular with diners and that “they love the fattiness of it, the juiciness of it”—he’s taken the very popular item off the menu.

Why deliberately take something off the menu that customers like?
Sundstrom is one of a growing number of chefs who have agreed to stop serving Chilean Sea Bass because some marine biologists and several environmental groups are concerned that the fish may not survive its newly found popularity. The National Environmental Trust claims more than a thousand chefs in the U.S. have joined their “Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass” campaign.

Also concerned about this fish, and others, are marine biologists at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium. Their “Seafood Watch” program shows consumers three categories of seafood: best choice, caution, and avoid. Chilean Sea Bass is one of 14 items that make up the “avoid” category.

While different kinds of seafood are on the “avoid” list for different reasons, Chilean Sea Bass—and another fish, Orange Roughy—are listed because of the very nature of the fish. Deep-water fish, according to the aquarium’s senior marine biologist, Steven Webster, are not good candidates for sustained fishing. He points out there are several reasons for this: “They are very slow growing. They don’t produce many offspring each year. They’re very late to mature.” That makes it very easy to catch a fish before it’s had a chance to reproduce.

The Chilean Sea Bass can live upwards of 40 years, while Orange Roughy can live to be a hundred years old, or more. “It’s possible,” says Webster, “that Orange Roughy filet on your plate was alive and swimming the day Lincoln was shot.”
Deep-water commercial fishing is relatively new. According to Webster, “As we have depleted…easily-accessed fisheries, fishermen are having to go deeper and deeper to supply the seafood the public is demanding.”

Technological advances, says Webster, have helped fishermen trawl at depths of 1,500 feet or “even deeper.”

What's In a Name?

Would you eat a slimehead? A few instances of how creative marketing has made some fish dishes more semantically palatable:

Old name New name
Patagonian Toothfish Chilean Sea Bass
Slimehead Orange Roughy
Rat Tail Grenadier

Governments have organized to limit how much fish can be taken, but poachers have ignored those limits. A 24-country commission called The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources regulates fishing within the Antarctic waters that Chilean Sea Bass call home. Countries, including the United States, require that imports have documents showing they were legally taken.

But that hasn’t stopped poachers. In July 2002, special agents from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boston confiscated 33 tons of Chilean Sea Bass valued at about $275,000.

So, what has Sundstrom done for diners looking for the kinds of tastes provided by Chilean Sea Bass? He’s found something called the Pacific Sea Bass from the waters off Alaska. He notes it is similar in taste and nutrition to Chilean Sea Bass.

Not everyone agrees with the idea of removing Chilean Sea Bass from restaurant menus. NOAA points out the species is not “endangered.” Also, The Center for Consumer Freedom says removing Chilean Sea Bass is not necessary and a “conspiracy that is all about marketing, not conservation.”

by Jack Penland

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