WASHINGTON -- During the past year, more than 1,000 upscale restaurants and markets in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago have joined the National Environmental Trust's "Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass" campaign. By joining the campaign, the markets and restaurants have agreed not to sell the popular, but potentially overfished, species until reforms in its current trade control system have been enacted.
"We think that sustainability is a smart way to go right now because as awareness of the issue grows, we believe consumers will reward restaurants and supermarkets that focus on sustainable practices," Robert Cowin, a New York representative for NET, told SN.
The growing popularity of Chilean sea bass as a delicacy has led to soaring dock prices, which, in turn, have led to extensive poaching and smuggling operations from the waters off of South America and Antarctica, according to a report released by NET last month.
In recent weeks, federal officials on the West Coast have seized 600,000 pounds of smuggled Patagonian toothfish -- commonly known as Chilean sea bass -- and the Port Import Export Report Service commercial database indicates that more than 1 million pounds of undocumented sea bass were sold in this country between December 2002 and June 2003, according to NET.
Scientific population models indicated if overfishing continues at its current level, within five years the species will become so rare that it will be "commercially extinct," or unfeasible to commercially harvest, Cowin told SN.
Loopholes in the current trade control system, such as processing and freezing the fish to make it more difficult for customs agents to detect, or even simply misrepresenting the species' name on reports, pose significant challenges for importers who want to ensure that their supply is legal, NET said.
The group has recommended several reforms, including improved cross checking of import permits and a centralized vessel-monitoring system to verify where and when the fish are caught. In addition, the group supports a ban on fish caught in unregulated waters, and the implementation of harmonized shipping codes from the international Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.