(Heard and McDonald Islands, Falkland Islands, Macquarie Island, Longline)
Longline-caught Chilean seabass from the Heard and McDonald Islands, the Falkland Islands and Macquarie Island are a "Best Choice" because of effective management practices that have ramped up to preserve an abundant population, and mitigated the effects of catching unwanted species.
Each of these toothfish fisheries , with the exception of the Falkland Islands, are certified as sustainable to the standard of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) .
Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish are commonly sold and marketed as Chilean Seabass, despite being two separate species. Recommendations differ depending on the region where the Chilean seabass originates, so it's important to ask. Seafood Watch® recommendations cover approximately 78% of the reported global toothfish catch. Also look for the blue eco-label of the MSC for certified sustainable products.
Toothfish dwell in deeper waters and play an important role in the Southern Ocean ecosystem as both prey and predator. Extensive research is ongoing in some regions to assess how many can be safely removed without disturbing the balance of nature. Some toothfish populations are more healthy and abundant than others.
The existence of toothfish fisheries is controversial for a variety of reasons. These include the lack of knowledge of some aspects of the species' life history, ecology, and population dynamics, as well as its vulnerability to overexploitation, particularly from its prior history with illegal fishing. But thanks to scrutiny of fishing activities, new data, and numerous enforcement measures in recent years, this activity has dramatically decreased. The U.S. prohibits the import of illegally caught toothfish, and importers must hold a permit, as well as a pre-approval certificate for each U.S. bound shipment of toothfish. Some illegal fishing activity still occurs in the high seas (unregulated), and these products may be sold in markets outside the U.S. It's still unclear how these illegal takes of toothfish may affect the well-managed fisheries.
In the Heard and McDonald Islands, and the Falkland and Macquarie Islands, toothfish abundance is considered high after setting catch limits based on careful review of data from landings and independent research into population health. Enforcement measures include two observers and monitoring systems stationed on every vessel, satellite surveillance, vessel inspections, and routine reviews of compliance. As in the case for the Heard and McDonald Islands, patrols for illegal fishing activity are even shared by neighboring French authorities.
Trawl fishing is being phased out, so most toothfish are caught by bottom longline, which is known to have some impact on seafloor habitats. To reduce impact, the "Best Choice" fisheries have implemented measures such as reduced fleet size (Falkland Islands has only one vessel), gear modifications to reduce contact with the bottom, and marine protected areas. Low intensity of fishing activity over vast ocean areas helps to diffuse its effects.
Bycatch varies widely in toothfish fisheries that use bottom longline. These "Best Choice" regions catch some threatened or vulnerable species such as corals, sharks, skates, and albatross. However, bycatch has been steadily decreasing due to a number of initiatives, including seabird avoidance gear and limits on bycatch that, when exceeded, shut the fishery down. In addition, independent, scientific observers report all catch data.