January 28, 2023

The Catch
Published: October 23, 2005
On a dank, cold morning this past March, full of wind and the gloom of the sub-Antarctic autumn, I stepped off the customs pier in the Falkland Islands port of Stanley and tried to board a pirate ship. The Elqui, a rusted-out heap flying the Guinean flag, sat impounded at the dock, her captain awaiting charges from the British territorial government of South Georgia Island. What had brought the Elqui and its 30-odd Indonesian, African and South American crew members to this remote harbor at the bottom of the world were Chilean sea bass, 13 tons of which now lay frozen below the ship’s deck.
After a knock on the door, Capt. Christian Vargas emerged, stressed out and exhausted and stinking of tobacco, sweat and bait.
“I can’t talk until the hearing,” he said.
“Who are the owners of the ship?”
“I can’t talk about it.”
And with that he slipped back into the pilothouse and struck up a conversation with his Spanish fishing master.
Despite an American-led “Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass” campaign, boycotts from celebrity chefs and strict legal quotas on the catch, Chilean sea bass still sells briskly in the United States for as much as $20 a pound – nearly five times what it cost when it first appeared in U.S. markets in the 1980’s. A whole animal may go for more than $1,000. In short, the Chilean sea bass is today one of the most valuable fish in the sea. It is therefore of little surprise that Captain Vargas and his crew were drawn to ply the skyscraper-size waves and mile-deep trenches of the South Atlantic for a little bit of booty. What is surprising is that they were caught red-handed and that a serious attempt was being made to punish them.
Read the Rest at The New York Times

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