« May 2007 Table of Contents
Product Spotlight: Chilean sea bass
MSC certification puts the controversial fish back on the menu
By April Forristall
May 01, 2007
The culinary timeline of Chilean sea bass is a choppy one.
One of the most successful introductions of a fish into the
North American market, Chilean sea bass went from obscure to
omnipresent in just 15 years. The controversy surrounding the
finfish has piqued curiosity, making it one of the priciest and
most-ordered seafood items on upscale menus.
First harvested off Chile in 1982 and marketed as Patagonian
toothfish, Chilean sea bass is considered one of the tastiest
fish on the market. It has a distinctive white flesh, even
texture, rich buttery flavor and wonderful versatility. Its
high fat content makes it difficult to overcook. In the late
'90s, diners would be hard pressed to pick up a menu and not
come across the deep-ocean species.
In 2001, Bon Appetit named Chilean sea bass its fish of the
year. Just one year later, National Environmental Trust and
other environmental groups called for a ban on the slow-growing
species, asking restaurateurs and consumers alike to "Take A
Pass On Chilean Sea Bass" after illegal, unregulated and
unreported fishing caused a severe decline in the species'
Today, due to the anti-toothfish campaign, chefs from
California to New York have removed it from the menu. According
to Kendell Seafood President Mike Della Grotta, the campaign
prompted a run on the fish, forcing the price up several
dollars per pound.
"I think [the campaign] gave Chilean sea bass even more
popularity and made the price go higher," says Della
It's a classic case of supply and demand, and buyers craving
unique fish. Chilean sea bass recently began to reappear on
upscale menus with the Marine Stewardship Council certification
of the South Georgia Patagonian longline fishery in 2006.
Seafood suppliers like Kendell of East Greenwich, R.I., F.W.
Bryce of Gloucester, Mass., and Orca Bay Foods of Renton,
Wash., have taken to distributing the fish. Orca Bay, which
supplies the fish to broadline distributors and chain
restaurants, began carrying Chilean sea bass last fall. Kendell
Seafoods uses the MSC-certified fishery but also sources the
species from various other locations.
Whole Foods Market, which joined NET's campaign in the
summer of 1999, brought the species back to its fish counter
late last year and Wal-Mart followed suit in January. Both
stores only sell fish from the South Georgia fishery.
Is a return to restaurants next? Cameron Mitchell
Restaurants based in Columbus, Ohio, stayed away from the fish
beginning in 1998 and brought it back in 2001, according to
Executive Chef Wayne Schick. Originally sourcing the fish
elsewhere, the company switched to solely purchasing from the
South Georgia fishery when they learned of the MSC
The two main Cameron Mitchell concepts that market the fish
are Mitchell's Fish Market and Mitchell's Ocean Club. Both list
Chilean sea bass in their "catch of the day" menu selections,
and Mitchell's Ocean Club serves the fish with glazed carrots
and champagne truffle sauce for $29. The Broker Restaurant in
Denver serves a whole Chilean sea bass flash fried then oven
baked with julienne vegetables and teriyaki sauce. Reza's, in
Chicago, serves a Chilean sea bass kabob for $24.95, and 3
Seasons in San Francisco serves it with fresh ginger, lily buds
and shiitake mushrooms.
Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at