Chile is a South American country on the western side of the continent. It is a long and narrow strip between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It has a long coastline and a long tradition of fishing. Chile also includes the historic Easter Island, which is technically part of the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania. Because there is so much ocean access, fish has historically been important to the country. Many of the traditional Chilean dishes, some of which come from the indigenous Quechua culture, feature shellfish, and fish.
Want to enjoy a Chilean seafood dish? Try Chilean seafood stew, which is a soup that has seafood, boiled in white wine, water, and onions, as well as other herbs and spices. This stew is traditionally served in a cazuelas, a traditional terra cotta pot. Ceviche is another traditional Chilean seafood dish. This dish has raw fish that has been cured in citrus juice, red onions, and chili peppers.
Let’s take a closer look at 7 spectacular fish found in Chile.
1. Peruvian Anchoveta
While this type of fish technically has Peruvian in the name, it is also found off the coast of Chile. They are so abundant that they are the number one fish species caught worldwide. Throughout the 2010s, Peruvian anchoveta catches were as high as 8.32 million tons annually. The highest yield was 13.1 million tons in 1971.
These small fish grow up to 8 inches long. Their diet consists primarily of krill and zooplankton. After being caught, these abundant fish are used mostly for fishmeal. This is a cheap and calorically dense type of food that is used to feed farm animals, typically in a factory farming situation.
However, in the mid-2000s, fisheries started preserving and canning these fish, marketing them as “Peruvian canned sardines.” While these fish are actually anchovies, the name sardines was chosen because when canned, these fish include bones and are not as heavily salted as canned anchovies. This new marketing caused a boom in the demand for Peruvian anchoveta. However, only about 1% of the annual catch is used for human food sources. The other 99% is still used for animal feed.
2. Chilean Jack Mackerel
Chilean jack mackerel also goes by the name Inca scad or Peruvian jack mackerel. It is very important in the world of commercial fishing. They are the most common commercially fished species, besides actual mackerel. One Chilean fishery accounts for 75% of the catches of this species each year. However, experts are worried that this species is being overfished and some predict a collapse of Chilean jack mackerel harvests in the future. After being caught, this species is canned, or sold as fresh fish. They are also processed for fishmeal in agricultural use for pig and salmon feed.
This plentiful fish species is, on average, 18 inches long. However, they can grow up to 28 inches long. They swim in groups called schools, which is why commercial fishers use large nets to snatch up as many as possible at one time. They are found on the west coast of South America off of Chile and Peru. They are also found around New Zealand and Australia, and in a narrow band in the Pacific Ocean between the two coastal areas.
3. Easter Island Butterflyfish
The Easter Island butterflyfish is only found in the ocean waters around Easter Island. It is not found anywhere else in the world. Easter Island is a special territory of Chile, though it is more than 2,000 miles off the Chilean coast.
These flat, black fish have a rectangular shape with white markings on their edges. They are small fish that grow up to 6 inches long. They tend to live in reefs and around boulders at ocean depths of up to 60 feet. Young Easter Island butterflyfish have been observed cleaning parasites from larger fish. Adults eat ocean worms, shrimp, fish eggs, barnacles, and sea sponges.
This fish species used to be on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as a vulnerable species due to its limited range. However, in 2010 they were changed to a species of Least Concern because their population is abundant. Humans have taken some for use in aquariums, but the impact of human activity on their population has not been significant as of yet.
4. Graytail Skate
The graytail skate, also called the gray tail skate, is a type of skate fish found in the ocean waters near the tip of Chile, as well as Argentina and the Falkland Islands. They grow up to 51 inches long and grow much more slowly than other species in the same family. They grow at a rate of about 1.5-2.5 inches per year and live to be up to 28 years old.
Graytail skates, as well as other skates are purposely fished for food. However, they also get caught up in nets and on lines for other types of fish catches. There is a management plan for fishing them in the Falkland Islands to avoid overfishing. In some areas it is prohibited to fish them, in others you need a license to do so.
5. Patagonian Toothfish
When you see a fish called “Chilean sea bass” chances are, it is actually a Patagonian toothfish. However, it may also be its relative, the Antarctic toothfish. Patagonia is a beautiful area of South America shared by both Chile and Argentina. It comprises the southernmost part of the continent, including the tip. The Patagonian toothfish is found in the ocean around Patagonia as well as Macquarie Island, which is located halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica.
Due to the popularity of this fish for commercial uses, there are some restrictions in place, depending on the time of year and location. For example, some fisheries have to close during the summers due to seabird mating and breeding or chick-rearing habits. Others are required to have a “bird scaring” line to deter birds from trying to get the bait on the hooks.
This popular fish is a safe one to eat. The Monterey Bay Aquarium lists several fisheries on its Seafood Watch List as being the best choice for toothfish in terms of safety and sustainability including Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery in Australia and the Falkland Islands Fishery.
6. Chilean Sandperch
Chilean sandperches are ray-finned fish that live in the Pacific Ocean. They are found off the coast of both Chile and Peru. They grow up to 20 inches long and live near the bottom of the water in muddy or sandy areas, and in kelp forests, at depths of around 330 feet. They are predators who eat crustaceans, worms, and other fish.
7. Southern Ray’s Bream
Southern Ray’s bream is a type of fish found off the Pacific coast of South America, including near Chile. They are also found near New Zealand, and in the wide swath of ocean between the two places. They grow up to about 18 inches long and are sometimes caught accidentally as a “bycatch” when fishing for other species. Even so, they are great fish for eating, like many other bream species. They have white flesh that can be baked, grilled, fried, or poached. The local name for this fish is reneita.
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jose Luis Stephens/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What are some traditional Chilean seafood dishes?
Traditional Chilean seafood dishes include Chilean seafood stew and ceviche.
What is the number one fish species caught worldwide?
Peruvian Anchoveta is the number one fish species caught worldwide.
What is fishmeal?
Fishmeal is a cheap and calorically dense type of food that is used to feed farm animals, typically in a factory farming situation
What are Peruvian canned sardines or Peruvian sardines?
Peruvian canned sardines or just Peruvian sardines are actually a fish species called Peruvian anchoveta.
What are other names for Chilean jack mackerel?
Chilean jack mackerel also goes by the name Inca scad or Peruvian jack mackerel.
Is the Easter Island Butterflyfish endangered?
The Easter Island butterflyfish used to be on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as a vulnerable species due to its limited range. However, in 2010 they were changed to a species of least concern because their population is abundant.
What are some Chilean fish species?
Chilean fish species include the Patagonian toothfish, the Peruvian anchoveta, and the Chilean sandperch.
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- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peruvian_anchoveta
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilean_jack_mackerel
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Island_butterflyfish
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graytail_skate
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patagonian_toothfish
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinguipes_chilensis
- Talley's, Available here: https://www.talleys.co.nz/seafood/species/rays-bream
- Authentic Food Quest, Available here: https://www.authenticfoodquest.com/discovering-chilean-seafood-at-the-mercado-central/