Everyone loves the name Chilean Sea Bass. But when you think about it for a while, it begins to lose its appeal.
Chile, after all, is damn far away. Where in Chile was this sea bass caught, and by whom? How was it transported all of those thousands of miles only to end up in an alley behind the restaurant you are currently sitting in as a candle flickers on your table next to a hip Italian clay pot of fresh rosemary growing beside a bubbling indoor waterfall? It all seems so contrived.
That’s because it is. For starters, at home, the Chilean Sea Bass is also known as the Patagonian Toothfish, which sounds like something out of Jurassic Park III. Secondly, the fish has been the center of controversy among chefs, foodies, purveyors and environmentalists for a decade because it represents a much broader problem: seafood fraud.
Chances are, if that Chilean Sea Bass you just ordered could pull up a chair and join you for dinner, his version of his journey would differ greatly from the waiter’s version. Officially, all imports of Chilean Sea Bass should be accompanied by an official Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, which chefs are supposed to check upon purchase.
But with so many customers craving that full, buttery taste–and so many restaurateurs and seafood providers willing to look the other way in order to remain competitive, the situation is ripe for corruption.
Now celebrity chefs Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Thomas Keller and others are protesting for change by signing a petition demanding that the U.S. government prohibit illegal seafood from entering the marketplace by enforcing stricter regulatory policies regarding imported fish. The public should applaud this effort.
As the size of the population continues to increase and the size of the globe remains the same, pressure on natural resources across the planet will grow more intense. Basic supply and demand principles tell the rest of the story. The Chilean Sea Bass, and all seafood for that matter, sits right in the middle of this very human business paradigm.
Unsurprisingly, your Chilean Sea Bass may not be sea bass at all. Seafood fraud assessments are rife with reports of inexpensive fish, scallop and other species sold as more expensive varieties–or somehow manipulated by the packing and icing process to enhance their size or appearance. Greater regulation is clearly needed.
Perhaps Chilean Sea Bass should be served like a nice French wine: Customers can taste it before deciding whether it’s worth buying. Sound good?