The Fish That Could Save Antarctica

   The Antarctic toothfish can grow longer than 6.5 feet and weigh more than 300 pounds. It can live for up to 50 years but doesn’t reach sexual maturity until it’s about 10 years old—the same age it reaches the size fisheries consider ideal.
Rob Robbins/USAP

A primeval predator patrols the dark, icy waters of Antarctica’s Ross Sea, antifreeze proteins coursing through its blood. An icon of the Southern Ocean, the Antarctic toothfish is a crucial link in the rich food web of the planet’s most pristine marine ecosystem. Since 1996, it has also become prized by fisheries, which call its meat “white gold.”

In the 2011–12 season, 15 ships from six nations pulled roughly 3,500 metric tons of Antarctic toothfish from the Ross Sea. (Eight nations have vessels registered to fish there.) More than half the catch ends up in the U.S., where it’s sold (along with Pata-gonian toothfish) as the more palatably named Chilean sea bass for upwards of $25 a pound. Toothfish grow only about one centimeter per year, so scientists fear the species can’t withstand the pressure.
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