Patagonian toothfish, aka Chilean seabass, is a big fish that can weigh 100 pounds headed-and-gutted although the average is closer to 20 pounds. The fish tends to be processed and frozen at sea. It’s then sometimes sold “refreshed” headed-and-gutted, as loins and skinless fillets. Most commonly it’s sold frozen in skinless fillets or headed-and-gutted. The meat is tender, moist and moderately oily with large, thick flakes. When raw the meat will be snow white and when cooked it will stay white. Look for refreshed fillets that are shiny and avoid frozen seabass that has discoloration or freezer burn. Alaskan sablefish can be an affordable, widely available substitute for Chilean seabass.
Based on average global landings of Patagonian toothfish from 2012-2016 and using the most recent MSC-certified fisheries from 2013-2017, the sustainability breakdown of Patagonian toothfish is:
~70% of Patagonian toothfish is MSC-certified (~50% from French-flagged vessels, ~25% from Australian flagged-vessels, ~15% from U.K. flagged vessels, and ~10% from Falkland Island-flagged vessels)
The leading country flag of vessels for landings include: ~30% France, ~20% Argentina, ~20% Australia, ~10% Korea, and ~5% U.K. and Falkland Islands each)
Global landings of Patagonian toothfish have increased ~10% in 2016 compared to 2012
Fresh Seasonal Availability
Recommended Servings per Month
Serving Size: 100g
Amount per serving
Patagonian toothfish are large, slender fish with a wide head and large eyes. The body ranges in color from brown to gray and is covered with large, smooth scales. They have a protruding lower jaw and sharp teeth along their upper jaw. Their pectoral fins are large and fan-like. Patagonian toothfish have two dorsal fins, the first of which is spiny. The species can reach up to 7.5 feet in length and weigh over 220 pounds. Patagonian toothfish can live upwards of 50 years.
This species has low fecundity and a relatively slow growth rate. Individuals start reproducing at around 8-10 years of age. Patagonian toothfish reproduce using the broadcast method of spawning. Spawning occurs during the winter when females release their eggs and males will release their sperm into the water column. Females can produce between 48,000 to 500,000 eggs per spawning season.
As top predators, Patagonian toothfish prey upon a variety of cephalopods, crustaceans, and pelagic fish species. A number of marine organisms also feed on Patagonian toothfish including seals, sperm whales, and colossal squid.
Patagonian toothfish inhabit sub-Arctic waters near the Antarctic Convergence in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. They are found in offshore waters off Chile to Cape Horn, and off the coast of Argentina – specifically South Georgia, the Falkland Islands, Shag Rocks and the islands of the Scotia Arc. They are also found near Bouvet Island in the South Atlantic. In the Indian Ocean, they are found near Kerguelen Island, the Crozet Islands, Prince Edward Island, and the Heard and McDonald Islands. They are found near Macquarie Island in the South West Pacific. Patagonian toothfish occupy a range of bathymetric zones throughout their life – with juveniles being more pelagic and occupying depths no greater than 984 feet (300 meters) deep. As they mature, Patagonian toothfish will inhabit much deeper waters up to 8802-9843 feet (2500-3000 meters) deep. Adults will spawn at depths of around 3281 feet (1000 meters) and are rather demersal, solitary, and sedentary. They often occur near continental shelves, seamounts, and submarine banks.
Science & Management
Population and stock structure are both active areas of research, but further study is needed in order to increase the understanding of different stocks as this will help better inform management. Gaps also remain in terms of the species’ reproductive patterns as well as larval and juvenile stages.
Genetic studies have revealed that certain fish living in the Antarctic, such as Patagonian toothfish, are able to produce antifreeze. This biological antifreeze is made of proteins and sugars and keeps their blood from crystallizing in the cold waters they inhabit.
Commercial fishing for Patagonian toothfish is managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Established in 1982 with the objective of conserving Antarctic marine life, the CCAMLR is made up of 25 Member states that participated in the original 1980 Conference on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and have legally committed to the Commission through ratification and signature. An additional 11 states have since acceded to the Commission – meaning they have formally advised of their agreement to be legally bound to the terms of the Commission. Both Member and Acceding states must generally accept the implementation of any conservation measures adopted by CCAMLR within the CCAMLR Convention Area – an area roughly encompassing the Antarctic continent between 45 and 60 degrees South. There are; however, some exceptions – notably the Kerguelen and Crozet Islands and the Prince Edward and Marion Islands toothfish fisheries that are managed separately under the jurisdiction of their parent countries, but which take CCAMLR management practices into account. The Macquarie Island toothfish fishery also falls outside of the CCAMLR Convention Area but is still managed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority in accordance to the conversation measures of the CCAMLR. Some toothfish fisheries in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay fall outside of the CCAMLR Convention Area and are subsequently managed by the relevant coastal state.
For fisheries operating in the CCAMLR Convention Area, the primary fishing methods allowed are longlines and trawling. Among management measures outlined by CCAMLR for Patagonian toothfish include:
Stock assessments and catch limits;
Observer requirements (vessels in the Convention Area are required to carry one international observer with some vessels carrying an additional national observer. Some vessels carry two observers at all times (Heard, McDonald, and Macquarie Island fisheries));
Gear restrictions (for both longline and trawl gear);
Area closures – vulnerable ecosystems and Marine Protected Areas that are off-limits to fishing;
Vessel limits and automated satellite-linked vessel monitoring systems (VMS); and,
Data reporting requirements.
Of particular note are management measures to reduce bycatch of seabirds. These include:
Restrictions limiting when longline hooks can be set during daylight hours throughout certain times of the year;
Vessels must have a bird-scaring line trailing behind the boat to keep birds away;
Seasonal closures that align with when birds are raising their chicks;
Gear restrictions – all longlines must be weighted to allow the bait to sink, preventing birds from hooking themselves; and,
Restrictions preventing ofal from being released overboard when lines are being hauled in.
Additional bycatch restrictions include bycatch limits and move-on rules.
CCAMLR has also adopted a Catch Documentation Scheme which applies to all toothfish harvested and traded by both CCAMLR and non-CCAMLR states verifying that all Patagonian toothfish imports were caught legally. The Catch Documentation Scheme applies to all Patagonian toothfish fishing, regardless if it was caught in the Convention Area or not. The US has specific import regulations in place to verify that toothfish imports were caught legally. To import toothfish into the US, all vessels must report VMS data to CCAMLR on a port-to-port basis. Importers must also have a valid dealer permit that has been issued by NOAA, and must obtain a pre-approval certificate for each shipment of toothfish imported into the US. Additionally, the US prohibits the import of toothfish caught in certain high seas areas outside the CCAMLR Convention Area.
Patagonian toothfish, marketed as Chilean Seabass, is a large, slow-growing deep-sea species found around the Southern Hemisphere, primarily off the coasts of Chile, Argentina and around sub-Antarctic islands. The species has been vulnerable to over-exploitation and its high commercial value has made it a constant target of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. A 2013 Monterey Bay Aquarium report indicated that Patagonian toothfish stocks around South Georgia, Heard and McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island and the Falkland Islands are abundant. Stocks in the Ross Sea appear to be doing well but there was uncertainty about the measurements. The Prince Edward and Marion Islands stocks were depleted, Crozet stocks were unassessed and highly vulnerable, while the Chilean fishery was assessed as being overfished.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Until the mid-1990s most Patagonian toothfish was caught using bottom trawl gear. This causes significant damage to the seafloor habitat and has a negative impact on ocean life for years afterward. Now most Patagonian toothfish are caught with longline gear and some are caught with pots, gear that’s less destructive. However some fisheries still employ trawl gear.
Although the switch from bottom trawl to longline gear has changed the impact on the seafloor, demersal longline fishing in the Patagonian toothfish fishery has accidentally killed numerous seabirds. Threatened or endangered species captured include black-browed albatross, grey-headed albatross, rockhopper penguin, white-chinned petrel, yellownose skate and the porbeagle shark, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Management measures have had success in reducing seabird bycatch to low levels although illegal fishing vessels lack even basic bycatch mitigation.
Management policies vary depending on the Patagonian toothfish fishery but the primary management body for Patagonian toothfish is the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources or CCAMLR, established in 1982. The Commission has substantial management measures in place that include catch limits, fishery closures, gear restrictions, population assessments, and 100% scientific observer coverage. The Commission has also had success in reducing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing since dedicated efforts began in 2000, but the practices persist on the Banzare bank in the Western Indian Ocean.