SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by Kelly Hill and John Sackton – April 20, 2016

Chilean Sea Bass has always been valued as premium white fish that is prized by upscale and high-end restaurants for its buttery, melt-in-your-mouth quality. However, the fishery was plagued with sustainability issues until the last few years, when efforts to enforce quotas, monitor fishing and provide traceability were combined with an aggressive crackdown on illegal fishing. These efforts have resulted in over 60% of the fishing areas receiving MSC certification and over 66% of the fisheries being categorized by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWatch list as Best Choice or Good Alternative.

One result of the crackdown on illegal fishing has been the changing price of toothfish in China. Overall, China has not increased its average volume of toothfish in the past few years, but the price paid for toothfish has risen dramatically. This is a market signal that this fish is legally caught.

For China proper, toothfish volume increased 42% between 2014 and 2015, while the value increased 96%. In Hong Kong, volumes fell by 11%, yet value increased by 58%, according to figures from the International Trade Center. This suggests that the mix of product was changing to legally caught fish, as the overall global values of imports only rose 16% over that period.

At the same time, toothfish has been gaining more popularity in the US and buyers feel comfortable about Chilean Sea Bass’ sustainability status. As a result, it is finding its way onto a wider range of menus.

This increase in domestic demand, combined with growing demand from China, which until recently was the primary market for the illegally fished Chilean Sea Bass, is causing prices to soar to historical highs.

The Urner Barry price quotes on toothfish portions are now at their highest level ever, going back to 2001.

Toothfish volumes have stabilized as management measures are in place. The volume of global trade over the past few years reflects this stability. So the rising prices appear to be demand driven, not the result of a supply shortage.