Supply, prices stable for Chilean sea bass

Catch totals for Chilean sea bass remained steady in 2018, allowing for prices to level off below the all-time highs of 2017, when an eight-ounce portion was selling for upwards of USD 21.00 (EUR 18.43).

Chilean sea bass, or Patagonian toothfish, is caught the lower latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere. Catches have been stable at around 30,000 metric tons (MT) annually since 2014, with 30,439 (MT) caught in 2017 and 29,761 MT landed in 2018, according to Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators (COLTO) data presented at the 2019 Global Seafood Market Conference in Coronado, California, U.S.A.

The reputation of the species is still recovering after being targeted by the, “Take a pass on  Chilean sea bass” campaign of the early 2000s, according to Derek Figueroa, the COO of Seattle Fish Company. But its issues the species had with illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing practically all resolved, he said. About half of the total supply of Chilean sea bass is now certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, and about the same amount is rated either a “Best Choice” or a “Good Alternative” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.

“I think it has a fantastic reputation,” Figueroa said.

Consumers certainly appear to be over the stigma, as prices for the fish, which is also known as Patagonian or Antarctic toothfish, have skyrocketed in recent years.

Always considered a premium fish, the average price for an eight-ounce portion hovered around USD 15.00 (EUR 13.16) between 2012 and 2014, but in 2015, they began a steep upward incline, eventually surpassing USD 21.00 in 2017, according to Comtell data. But prices leveled off in 2018, settling just under USD 20.00 (EUR 17.55).

Similarly, prices from Chile for frozen headed-and-gutted skin-on 10/12-kilogram portions moved from USD 11.00 (EUR 9.65) per pound in 2012 to 2014 to above USD 15.00 (EUR 13.16) in 2017. But in 2018, prices moved back down into the US 13.00 (EUR 11.41) range.

“Chilean sea bass, there was a period there when there was no ceiling for it,” James Berger, the director of national sales at Beaver Street Fisheries said during a GSMC panel on premium finfish. 

“[Some fish] have traits that give it an invincibility. One of those things is taste. [Chilean sea bass] is very rich, melts in your mouth, and that [appreciation] seems to be universal,” Berger said in regard to the high prices consumers seem to be willing to pay for the fish.


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