Now that Seabass Chile has successfully closed the breeding cycle of the Patagonian toothfish for the first time, the company is looking forward to the commercial production of this high-value species. And it could, they argue, represent a long-term sustainable alternative to the production of Atlantic salmon.
Salmon farming is very popular in the coastal waters of southern Chile. However, the local sector is plagued by such issues as the increased proliferation of sea lice and algal blooms, compromising its performance severely. Aside from warming waters, the main cause of the problems faced by most Chilean salmon farms is the fact that they are culturing non-native Atlantic salmon.
As discussed in our last article on the culture of native species, non-native fish are often not as well-adapted to local climates and pathogens, as opposed to durable and entrenched native species. However, Chile’s salmon farmers have not had a suitable native alternative to farm in commercial quantities – until now.
A breakthrough resulting from over 10 years of research has allowed a private company, Seabass Chile SpA, to finally commenced commercial production to commence. Alberto Reyes, who has headed Seabass Chile from its inception, has the objective to expand both the hatchery activities and construct a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) grow-out which aims to produce an annual output of 2,800 tonnes of the species within nine years.
The Chilean sea bass (Dissostichus eleginoides) is locally referred to by fishermen as “white gold” and is sold to high-end markets and upscale restaurants for around $30 per kilogramme. In most of South America, these fish are known as merluza Negra, while in Chile, they are called bacalao de profundidad. In markets across America, Europe and Asia Chilean sea bass are appreciated for their strong flavour and high-quality meat. Like salmon, the fish has a very high percentage of fatty acids, the main reason for its rich flavour.
The species was previously known as the Patagonian toothfish and it is not actually a real sea bass. It is a large predatory fish which occurs around most sub-Antarctic islands along the southern Atlantic Ocean, plus the Pacific and Southern Oceans. Due to its popularity, it was previously heavily overfished, almost to the point of local extinction. In recent years, stricter fishery management has resulted in limited recovery.
Very few people had observed the eggs, larvae and juveniles of this fish before the project got underway. Scientific publications on the biology of Chilean sea bass are scant, as is information from a previous attempt to farm the species in the Falkland Islands.
As such, the team of Seabass Chile was in a unique position to make one discovery after another and to see and record the previously unknown life stages of this fish. To meet these challenges, Reyes had the vision and foresight to include project researchers and veterinarians to complement his team’s technical efforts. There was also ongoing participation from Dr Gidon Minkoff of Teleostei Fish Hatchery Consulting, who coordinated the process of developing a larval-rearing protocol for the species.