BLUEFIN TUNA AND JAPAN
magaro hunks on
sale in Tsukiji More than 80 percent of the global bluefin tuna catch is consumed in Japan. Bluefin imports increased from 340 tons in 1970 to more than 20,000 tons in 2008, with Japanese trading firms often purchasing a vessel’s entire catch. Consumption reached 44,000 tons in 2006 with domestic production accounting for less than 15,000 tons. Japanese consume more 25 percent of the world’s catch of all species of tuna. Not surprisingly Japan is the world’s largest importer of tuna. It imported 36,989 tons in 2005.
About 1,200 fishing boats engage in oceangoing, long-line tuna fishing worldwide. Ninety percent of these are from Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan. These vessels often stay out at sea for about a year, conducting only a couple of catches during that time.
In January 2009, the Japanese government said that its longline tuna fleet would be cut by 10 percent to 20 percent in response to higher international restrictions on tuna catches. The number of ocean-going vessels would be reduced from 390 to between 310 and 380 ships. The number of coastal vessels would be reduced from 349 to between 300 and 310 ships. The move is expected to result in the loss of 1,000 jobs and raise the price of tuna.
In January 2011, a 342-kilogram bluefin tuna was sold at Tsukiji for a record price of ¥32.49 million ($360,000). The was caught off Toi, Hokkaido and fetched such a high rice because of its quality and freshness and the fact that bad weather reduced the New Year catch (538 bluefin were auctioned off, 33 fewer than the year before). The record-breaking fish was purchased jointly by Kyubei, a famous sushi restaurant in Ginza, and Itamae Sushi, a chain of restaurants in Japan and Hong Kong.
In July 2010, the largest bluefin tuna caught since 1986 was sold at Tsukiji. The 445-kilogram fish, which was weighed after it had been gutted and cleaned, was caught off Nagasaki Prefecture in Japan. It was auctioned off for ¥3.2 million ( ¥7,200 per kilogram). The largest bluefin tuna every sold at Tsukiji was a 496-kilogram fish caught in April 1986. The biggest bluefin ever caught was a 497-kilogram Canadian fish caught in 1995.
Websites and Resources
Links in this Website: FISHING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BLUEFIN TUNA FISHING AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TSUKIJI FISH MARKET IN TOKYO Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TRADITIONAL FISHING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; PEARLS AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SEAFOOD IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUSHI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FUGU (BLOWFISH) IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan
Good Websites and Sources on Fishing: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries maff.go.jp/e ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Fisheries Section stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp
Good Websites and Sources on Blue Fin Tuna Fishing : Northern Blue Fin Tuna fishbase.org ; Southern Blue Fin Tuna fishbase.org ; Wikipedia article on Blue Fin Tuna Wikipedia ; Blue fin Tuna Fishing Methods content.cdlib.org ; Mediterranean Blue Fin Tuna Aquaculture eeuropeanrussianaffairs.suite101.com ; Southern Bluefin Tuna Aquaculture sardi.sa.gov.au/aquaculture ; Blue Fin Tuna Farming Off Spain uni-duesseldorf.de
Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo : Tsukiji Market site tsukiji-market.or.jp ; Essay on Tsukiji aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Tsukiji Research people.fas.harvard.edu ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com Getting There: Best Japanese Sushi google.com/site/bestjapanesesushi ; Photos: Tsukiji Tour http://homepage3.nifty.com/tokyoworks/TsukijiTour/TsukijiTourEng.htm
Traditional Fishing in Japan: Ama Divers thingsasian.com ; Ama Physiology archive.rubicon-foundation.org ; Amasan hanamiweb.com ; Squid Fishing jtackle.info/squid ; Cormorant fishing Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Cormorant fishing in Yangshuo yangshuo-travel-guide ; Photos of Cormorant fishing molon.de ; Articles on Cormorant Fishing highbeam.com
Catching Blue Fin Tuna
In Japan, bluefin tuna tend to be caught using the rod-and-line technique or long lines. In the Atlantic they are often caught with spotter planes and harpoons that electrocute the fish dead with hundred of volts of power. Favored fishing places include the Mediterranean, near the Azores and the waters off Boston.
The bluefin tuna season in Cape Cod begins in late June when the fish migrate to the North Atlantic. Spotter planes used to find tuna generally get 25 percent of the money from the sale of the fish. Electric harpoons are preferred for killing the tuna because fish that are caught with a line fight for a long time, which raises their body temperature and produces an unwanted flavor called ya-ke.
Immediately after being caught and brought on board bluefin tuna are gutted, instantly frozen at -76̊F and put in coffin-like containers packed with ice and often transported later that day via cargo jets to Japan. Even fish caught by sport fishermen often end up in Japan. Japanese wholesalers have contacts at sport fishing dock in Miami and other places.
At many ports where blue fin are brought, "tuna techs" from Tsukiji educate American fishermen about the tuna's kata , or ideal form, and what to look for in color, texture, fish content and body shape. .
Tuna Caught in the Tsugaru Strait
The best bluefin tuna caching grounds in Japan are said to be in the Tsugaru Strait off Omamachi in Aomori Prefecture in northern Honshu. Bluefin tuna unloaded at the port in Omamachi are known as Oma Maguro. They tend to sell for double the price of tuna caught elsewhere.
The best bluefin tuna in the Tsugaru Strait are caught during the winter when the waters in the strait are rich in small fish eaten by tuna and it is not unusual for tuna weighing 300 kilograms or more to be caught.
Bluefin tuna are particularly valuable at that time of year because the are rich in fat and tuna supplies worldwide tend to decline in the winter. Fishermen risk their lives going out in the rough seas to catch tuna. Some lose fingers after getting them caught in fishing lines while trying to pull in large fish. One fisherman told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “In winter, I go out fishing even if the wind is blowing 70 kilometers per hour because its worth the danger.”
There is conflict there between fishermen using the rod-and-line technique and other who use long lines. In recent years as the price of bluefin tuna has risen and cost of fishing have increased, long line fishermen have intruded on fishing grounds reserved for rod- and-line fishing. The long lines are sometimes 3,000 meters long. Not only do conservation oppose the method other fishermen don’t like them because the long lines can become entangled created a mess in popular fishing areas.
Penalties of one year in prison and ¥500,000 fines for repeated violations don’t do much to deter the long line fishermen. There have been cases where long line boats have been chased and surrounded by rod-and-line boats who cut the lines of the long-line fishermen.
In January 2010, a 232.6-kilogram bluefin tuna was sold at Tsukiji for ¥16.28 million (about $175,000), or ¥70,000 a kilogram. The fish was caught off Oma-machi, Aomori Prefecture.
Declines, Quotas and Prices on Blue Fin Tuna
By some estimates bluefin tuna stocks have declined 80 percent. The number of mature Atlantic bluefin is thought to have dropped from 250,000 in 1970 to 100,000 in recent years.
The decline in tuna numbers has been blamed in part on the use of roll-net equipped fishing boats that scoop up large volumes of fish in one swoop. Greenpeace and other environmental organizations have become increasingly critical of the bluefin trade and many sushi restaurants in Europe don’t serve the fish.
In the old days there were so many frozen bluefin tuna at Tsukiji’s auction they had to be stacked on top of each other. That is no longer the case. One wholesale fish buyer told the Washington Post. “We were too loose in governing our own fishing. We now need a very rigid regimen to show the world we can control ourselves. Instead of eating tuna twice a week, the Japanese are going to have to settle for twice a month...We all have to share what we have got. If we do that. I don’t think they are going extinct.”
Quotas on Blue Fin Tuna
Whenever there is talk is a shortage or overfishing of tuna eyes are inevitably cast towards Japan. The catch quotas of bluefin tuna in the late 2000s was 23,900 tons for Atlantic bluefin tuna in 2009, 24,900 tons for Pacific bluefin tuna in 2008, and 11,800 tons for southern bluefin tuna in 2009.
Five regional fishery control organizations control (or at least try to control) tuna fishing worldwide. The International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is responsible for fish caught in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. ICCAT's quota was 13,500 tons in 2010, down from 20,000 tons in 2009.
Japan’s quota for southern bluefin tuna was 6000 tons in 2006. According to a group called the Commission Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), Japan caught more twice the amounts of southern bluefin tuna that was allowed to catch between 2003 and 2005. Japanese fishermen said they just exceeded their quotas of 6,000 tons a years but based on the amounts sold the CCSBT estimated that between 10,000 to 16,000 tons were actually caught.
As punishment for overfishing the CCSBT halved Japan’s quota to 3000 tons. The government Fisheries Agency admitted that bluefin tuna was overfished and agreed to have the annual quota to 3,000 tons for five years beginning in 2007. There were worries the move might set off price hikes.
Japan’s quota for Atlantic bluefin is about a quarter of what it was. In November 2006, Japan took the unusual step of voluntarily agreeing to cut its quota of Atlantic tuna in part to head more severe imposed cuts.
The cuts and quotas are not expected to affect the supply or price of tuna by that much and many hope they will lead to more responsible fishing. The price of bluefin tuna rose 20 percent in Tokyo in 2007. In many case sushi restaurants have not been able to pass on the costs to their customers and take a loss whenever their customers eat too much bluefin sushi. High prices have caused household consumption of blue fin tuna to decline 20 percent.
Limits on Bluefin Tuna
The global bluefin tuna catch was cut by 39 percent in 2010 from the previous year to 11,500 tons with Japan’s total catch reduced to 1,148 tons.
In 2010: 1) the international cap on Pacific bluefin went into effect the permits caches at 2002-2004 levels; 2), the catch quota for bigeye tuna was reduced 30 percent for three years; and 3) and the regulations for Atlantic Ocean fishing looked likely to be further tightened. At some bluefin market sales only 1 percent of the fish on sale had been caught at sea. The rest had been farmed.
In November 2009, there were rumors that there might be shortages of bluefin tuna during the holiday season and that prices for the fish were going to spike. The government issued a statement that the rumors were not true and that suppliers stockpiled an ample supply.
At the first bluefin auction of the year at Tsukiji in 2010, there were 20 percent less fish than at the same time a year earlier. One wholesaler told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Since the first auction of the year, few tuna have been up for auction. Prices are up 20 percent on last year. I hope it’s not a bad sign.” An executive with a fishing organization said, “If catches and stockpiles decrease, and the economy recovers and demand increases, prices will rise.”
Limits on Mediterranean Bluefin Tuna
The International Commission Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) has called for a 38.6 percent cut in the annual catch of Atlantic bluefin tuna in 2010, the biggest ever decrease.
An estimated $4.5 billion worth or unreported, illegal catches have occurred in the Mediterranean during the 2000s, with much of the catching ending up in Japan. ICCAT estimates that the amount of Atlantic bluefin tuna actually caught is double the catch limits. In 2002, for example, the catch limit in the Atlantic and Mediterranean was 32,000 tons but ICCAT believes that 50,000 tons was actually caught. Such large amount are illegally caught because fishing nations refuse to set standards and procedures that could address the problem.
Roberto Bregazzi, a tuna industry analyst, has called the practice “intolerable tax free looting” and estimated the amount of illegally-caught tuna rose from 3,569 tons in 2004 to 24,297 tons in 2008. He told the fishing trade journal Interfish, “Thanks to a new generation of ultra-low freezing technology, Japanese fresh and frozen tuna traders are no longer faced with the urgency of its rapid market distribution. Tuna has thus become a commodity with which Japan can speculate.”
Proposed Bluefin Tuna Ban
In March 2010, a proposal to ban the export of Atlantic bluefin tuna by declaring the fish an endangered species failed to become enacted at a meeting of the 175-nation Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITIES), also known as the Washington Convention, in Doha, Qatar. For a while it looked as if the Monaco-introduced proposal was going to pass. It was supported a United Nations conservation organization, the United States, the European Union, France, Italy and several European countries. On the eve of the vote bluefin tuna prices rose to ¥6,500 a kilograms, compared to ¥4,000 a couple months earlier. But in the end only 20 nations vote in favor of the ban while 68 voted against it, with 30 abstentions. A two thirds majority was needed for the measure to be passed.
It was a novel idea to try and restrict the bluefin trade using CITIES, which was set up to protect endangered species. Normally fishing matters are handled by fishing organizations like the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Supporters of the ban claimed bluefin tun were “on the verge of extinction.” Among the arguments used against the ban were that it hurt fisherman in developing nation and labeling bluefin fin endangered was not scientifically justified. In the end many countries chose to vote against the ban as economic concerns prevailed over conservation.
Traders were relieved by the decision but environmentalist were worried about the future of bluefin tuna and the sustainability of the catch.
Bluefin Tuna Stockpiles and Sales
tuna buyer in Greece Bregazzi claims that 47,000 tons of tuna has been stockpiled in Japan as of June 2009 in the anticipation that tuna fisheries will become depleted enough to send the price of tuna through the roof. In Japan, tuna are stored for long periods in warehouses where temperatures are kept at -60 degrees C. The stockpile of bluefin tuna in freezers across Japan is said to be enough to last for between a year and 18 months. Such huge stockpiles of tuna lead to prices of tuna falling by 10 percent in 2009 while there was talk of tuna going extinct.
Bluefin tuna caught off New England is sold at the docks to Japanese buyers who grade the fish for freshness color, fat and shape and offer prices based on the going rates at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo that day. The purchased fish is packed in ice, transported to the airports and loaded on Japan Airlines planes at New York's Kennedy Airport for a 15 hour flight to Tokyo, where a single tuna can cost $80,000.
Describing the scene at a pier in Bath, Maine, Theodore Betsor wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, "After 20 minutes of eyeing the goods, many of the buyers return to their trucks to call Japan by cellular phone and get the morning prices from Tokyo's Tsukiji Market...The buyers give written bids to the dock manager, who passes the top bid for each fish to the crew that landed it."
"Each secret auction bid is examined anxiously by a cluster of young men. After a few minutes deals are closed and the fish are quickly loaded onto the backs of trucks in crates of crushed ice." American fishermen usually get around $10 to $20 a pound on the docks for bluefish catches.
Japanese imports of fresh bluefin tuna worldwide increased from 957 tons in 1984 to 5,235 tons in 1993. The price peaked in 1990 at $34 per kilogram when a typical 350 pound fish sold for around $10,000. As of 2008, bluefin was selling for $23 a kilogram. Higher prices are charged for really high quality fish.
Selling Blue Fin Tuna in Japan
magaro at the fish auction at Tsukiji See Tokyo's Tsukiji Market,
Bluefin tuna worth over a $150,000 have been sold at Tsukiji. In 2001, a 202-kilogram tuna caught in Tsugaru Straight near Omanachi I Aomori Prefecture sold for a whopping $173,600 or about $800 a kilogram.
In recent years prices have come down. Bluefin tuna was selling for ¥3,000 a kilogram in 2008, compared to ¥4,500 a kilogram in 1989. See Living, Food
More and more the amount bluefin tuna available on a given day is unreliable and buyers are relying more and more on large commercial freezers to store supplies so they don’t run out. Tuna frozen with the special “flash” method can be kept for up to a year with no perceivable change in taste.
Single Bluefin Tuna Sold for Record $736,500
In January 2012, AFP reported: A deep-pocketed restaurateur shelled out nearly $750,000 for a tuna at Japan's Tsukiji fish market, smashing the record price for a single bluefin. The 269-kilogramme (592-pound) fish -- caught off the coast of Japan's northern Aomori prefecture -- stood at an eye-popping 56.49 million yen ($736,500) when the hammer came down in the first auction of the year. The figure dwarfs the previous high of 32.49 million yen paid at last year's inaugural auction at Tsukiji, a huge working market that features on many Tokyo tourist itineraries. [Source: Yoshikazu Tsuno, AFP, January 5, 2012]
The winning bidder was Kiyoshi Kimura, president of the company that runs the popular Sushi-Zanmai chain. At around 210,000 yen per kilogramme, a single slice of sushi could cost as much as 5,000 yen, but the firm plans to sell it at a more regular price of up to 418 yen, local media reported. "The flesh is coloured in magnificent red and the quality of fat is very good," Kimura said. "It is very delicious. The taste is unbeatable." A Hong Kong sushi restaurant owner bought the previous year's record tuna, and Kimura added: "I wanted to win the best tuna so that Japanese customers, not overseas, can enjoy it."
Emiko Misumi, a 44-year-old woman who tasted a slice, said: "This tuna is so fatty and very delicious." "It was sweet even without sugar or sake. It was a very delicate sweet taste," said another female customer Noriko Nakai, 63.
Farming Bluefin Tuna from Eggs in Japan
The Japanese are experimenting with raising bluefin tuna in huge ocean enclosures. Researchers from Kinki University are raising bluefin in circular pens, about 70 meters across, in waters off Kushimoticho, Wakayama. After the fish reach a length of one meter and weight of 30 kilograms and their fat content is high enough that can be sold commercially. Some reach a weight of 350 kilograms. The tuna are fed squid and mackerel.
In 2009 Kinki University researchers hatched about 190,000 bluefin tuna eggs, of which about 40,000 grew to be fingerlings, This figure was impressive but still meant only 0.5 percent of the eggs survived, About 60 tons of bluefin tuna meat was produced. Branded Kindai maguro (“Kinki University tuna”), it has a higher fat content than fish caught in the wild.
In June 2002, a team at the Kinki University Fisheries Laboratory led by Professor Hidemi Kumai became the first, to artificially breed bluefin tuna fry from to artificially incubated mature tuna. More than 5,000 eggs were produced by six 7-year-old tuna and fourteen 6-year-old tuna, all of born and raised in captivity. About 160 of the bluefin tuna that hatched in 2002 were still alive in 2006. On average they were about 1.2 meter long. and weighed about 70 kilograms.
Kinki University researchers have also had success raising kelp grouper and burhura, a hybrid species created by crossbreeding Japanese amberjack and goldstriped amberjack. The laboratory hopes to make ¥2 billion a year from selling fish it produces. It sells both fry to fish farmers and fresh fish that are marketed as being safe and high quality. The university successfully bred more that 20 types of fish, including red sea bream, bastard halibut, rock progy and amberjack in the late 1960s.
History of Fish Farming Tuna
The team at Kinki University was able to get tuna to produce fertile eggs in 1979 but all the eggs and fry died within a few weeks. When the tuna spawned again in 1980 and 1982 the fry were kept alive for up to 57 days. The tuna did not spawn again until 1994 and the spawned five times between 1994 and 2001.
In the meantime scientists learned that big fry are smaller fry and this led to a separation of fry by size. In 1994, 1800 two- to three-month-old fry were released into sea pens. But a month later all but 40 were dead. One lived for 246 days and reached a size of 1.3 kilograms. The team concluded that the fish died because the pens were too small and replaced the six-meter square pens with 12-meter octagonal pen made of synthetic fibers. The one-month survival rate increased to 16.4 percent in 1995 and 24.9 percent in 1996.
Because young fish can travel fast but can’t turn so well they often collide with net sides of their pens until they are 25 centimeters in length. In 1998 the team developed a circular pen that was six meters deep and 30 meters in diameter. In this pen the one-month survival figure was 55.7 percent. About 400 survived in the pen for more than twp years. The Kinki University team also found that the tuna are very sensitive to light and noise and reacted negatively to the presence of cars traveling near their pens.
Clean Seas Tuna, a company based in Port Lincoln Australia, has invested ten of millions of dollars to hatch tuna from an indoor hatchery at the hamlet of Arno Bay 120 kilometers north of Port Lincoln. Here large bluefin tuna are kept in a massive tank that tries to fool the fish into thinking they have reached their spawning grounds by simulating ocean currents, increasing the temperature of the water in their tanks and the amount of light. In March 2008, the company announced a major breakthrough: it collected its first batch of fertilized eggs from a breeding stock of about 20 tuna weighing 160 kilograms.
Clean Seas Tuna has gotten its bleeding stock to spawn several times and produce eggs and larvae but is still working out how to feed and care for the larvae. Many investors are skeptical that Clean Sea will achieve its goal of raising bluefin tuna captivity and say even if they do the cost will be too high to turn a profit. The fish only grow at a rate of one kilogram a month The attraction for Clean Seas is that it will be able to sell tuna without any quotas restricting the company. It hopes to sell 5000 tons year, with its first sales in 2009.
In September 2009, researchers with the Fisheries Laboratory at Kinki University, in Shirahama Wakayama Prefecture and Australia-based Clean Seas Tuna announced they had succeeded in breeding southern bluefin tuna and produced bluefin tuna fry, a step which could open the way to commercial cultivation of bluefin tuna.
Bluefin Tuna Farming Details
Researchers at Kinki University predict that Japan should be able to produce 100 percent of domestic demand for bluefin tuna with farmed fish raised from eggs rather than caught in the wild. In this process: 1) eggs about 1 millimeter is diameter are fertilized; 2) After about 35 hours three-millimeter fish are artificially hatched and fed on plankton for 15 to 20 days; 3) three- to five-centimeter-long fry eat hatchling parrot bass and other fish for two to three months; 4) 20 to 30-centimeter-long fingerlings eat process for feed for more than four years; 5) mature fish are one meter to one and half meters long.
The pens need to be at least 10 meters deep and 30 meters in diameter so that fish do not collide with nets. The pens need to be away from human activity as they are easily panicked by things like car lights and noise from fireworks, with some injuring themselves by crashing into their nets at high speed. The fish are also vulnerable to to poor water conditions created by typhoons. Night lighting is used to accustom young fish to light.
Bluefin tuna are regarded as particularly difficult to cultivate because of their sensitivity to conditions when laying eggs.. The fish will not lay eggs in temperatures below 26?C or if it is too windy or rainy. Even if the eggs hatch they chance they will becoming a six-centimeter-long fry is only 3 percent. There is only a 0.1 chance the fish will reach a salable size and be sold in markets. Even if they make it to adulthood, many die often panicking and ramming into the net or side of the enclosure.
Farm raised tuna generally has a higher fat content than wild tuna. The main expense of raising blue fin tuna is the cost of food. A one meter tuna need about 15 kilogram of live fish to put on one kilogram of fat, and abbout 1.5 tons to two tons of squid and mackerel are needed to produce a 100 kilogram bluefin tuna. Scientists are currently trying to develop less expensive fish feed. One of main obstacles is her is creating a processed food that doesn’t affect the taste of the tuna because what a tuna eats very much affects the taste of its meat.
Prof. Kumai , who spent more than 50 years studying bluefin tuna , told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “It could be possible to meet world demand with farmed fish. In the future we’d like to try releasing fish bred in captivity into the ocean. I’d love to see Kindau maguro swimming around the globe.”
Bluefin Tuna Farms with Wild Fish
Fish farms, or fish ranches as they are sometimes called, for bluefin tuna are places where fish corralled in the open sea are brought and kept in giant underwater cages and fattened up with sardines and tuna for between a few months to a year.
The technique, which is really more like rustling than ranching, has revolutionized the bluefin industry. Fishermen scoop up schools of spawning tuna and transfer them to 50-meter-wide cages and return to the spawning area catching all the fish they can. The practice is though to be particularly damaging to fish stocks because it captures large number of fish at place they come to spawn. Not only are large numbers of fish caught they are also deprived of producing offspring
About 20 percent of the bluefin tuna consumed in Japan is farmed from wild fish. About 400,000 bluefin tuna are being raised on farms as of 2010. Sojitz exports farmed tuna from Japan to China.
Because bluefin tuna swim so fast and are used to migrating long distances they are difficult to keep in small pens. Their delicate skin can be easily damaged if touched by human hands and to much handling can be fatal.
Farming of bluefin tuna is common in the Mediterranean. The practice began there in Croatia in 1996 and since has then has begun in Italy, Spain and Turkey . In the Mediterranean the tuna are caught in their spawning ground in waters off Libya. They are transferred to underwater boxes and fattened up with fish meal, sardines, mackerel and squid, up to two years, to increase the fatty meat valued in Japan. According to a WWF report fish farming is responsible for depleting stocks of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean because so many spawning fish are caught. Japanese firms own a sizable part of the bluefin tuna farm industry in the Mediterranean.
High-Tech Tuna Factory at Okayama University
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A "fish factory" has been in operation for two years on the hilly campus of Okayama University of Science in Okayama. The indoor facility is equipped with water-circulation machines and other devices.The project is one of an increasing number of attempts to introduce the latest science and technology into primary industries to make the field more profitable. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2012]
“The one-story building holds large and small aquarium tanks, including a round tank measuring eight meters in diameter near one end of the building, where three bluefin tuna, each weighing about eight kilograms, were swimming around. Toshimasa Yamamoto, 53, an associate professor of the university's Faculty of Engineering, said: "I want to establish technologies to enable fish farming with high added value even in villages in mountainous regions where depopulation or graying of the population is progressing. By doing so, I want to create new industries.” [Ibid]
“He developed a method of adding small quantities of sodium, potassium and other elements to freshwater so that both saltwater fish and freshwater fish can be farmed in it. he method is less costly than transporting seawater to mountainous areas and makes it easier to control water quality. urrently, the fish-farming research is under way with eight species of fish. Yamamoto has especially high hopes for bluefin tuna, which are high-quality fish. [Ibid]
“Farming bluefin tuna is difficult because the fish swim at high speeds, and are sensitive to light and sounds. Often the fish crash into tank walls or jump out of the tank. In 2010, when he first got the fish factory running, all the tuna died. Since summer of last year, he has made some improvements to the facility. For example, iodine, which has bactericidal effects, has been added to the water, and nets to prevent fish from jumping out have been placed over the tank. As a result, young 25-centimeter fish have grown to 80 centimeters in eight months. [Ibid]
“If costs for circulating and purifying water can be lowered, the fish will be more competitive in the market. Yamamoto has received proposals for joint research from U.S., Chinese and South Korean companies. He said, "An age in which agricultural cooperatives will ship bluefin tuna may be coming.” [Ibid]
Tuna Farming in Australia
Bluefin fish farming began in Australia in the 1980s when quotas and low prices threatened to bankrupt many operators. Fishermen there came up the brilliant idea of netting their quotas and increasing their size and profits.
Tuna fishermen in Australia operate under a quota system. After overfishing seriously depleted tuna fisheries in the 1980s, fishermen were required to obtain an individual transferable quota which gave them the right to catch a certain number of fish each year. The quota system was great for the fishermen. Fisherman that once earned $600 a ton selling fish to canneries began making more than $1,000 per fish, selling them to buyers for the Japanese market. The quotas are expensive. They are bought and sold like stocks.
Bluefin tuna farmed in Australia are caught in nets during a two-week "round-up" and slowly towed to floating pens near the shore. The tuna are fed and harvested when prices are high on the Tokyo market. The fish are fattened up with pilchards and anchovies and sold when they double in size to around 32 kilograms.
The 2,000 or so tuna kept in a single pen are worth around $2 million. They are so valuable armed guards keep watch over them. At harvest time the fish are gently guided into a boat (any bruising lowers the price) and killed and flash frozen and put on Tokyo-bound planes
Australia exports 10,000 metric tons of bluefin worth $200 million. Almost all is from penned stocks. Australia and New Zealand are concerned about potential overfishing of bluefin tuna in the Southern Sea by Japanese ships.
Tuna raised on the farms described above are known as chikuyo tuna. One of the aims of the process is to increase the body fat on the fish. A high fat contents means that up to 70 percent of the fish can be sold as fatty, premium-priced toro (normally only 20 percent of a fish can be sold as toro). But a lack of exercise leaves the flesh overly soft and lacking in taste and texture.
Much of the toro sold in sushi bars is chikuyo tuna. It cost about half as much as wild tuna and ths has brought down the price of toro so that it can be enjoyed by ordinary consumers. Oversupply has caused prices to drop even further. Now toro is available for as little as ¥1,000 per kilogram compared to ¥5,000 per kilogram that it sold for in the Bubble Economy era in the 1980s.
The lower prices have meant that the best quality toro is now even available at conveyor belt sushi restaurants. Japan imported about 3,000 tons of chikuyo tuna 1995 and 35,000 tons in 2005.
Chikuyo tuna is known for being particularly fatty. When he first encountered the fish one sushi restaurant chef told the Yomiuri Shimbun , “The tuna was like a big chunk of fat. A real sushi lover would find the is tuna’s smell different from the flavor of wild bluefin tuna.” The fish have more fat and thus softer meat in part because they get less exercise swimming around in small enclosed spaces that wild fish do in the open sea.
In wild bluefin tuna 30 percent to 40 percent of the fish excluding the head is classified as toro. In chikuyo bluefin tuna the figures rises to 70 percent or even 80 percent.
Image Sources: 1) 3) Japan Zone 2) 4) Wikipedia 5) JNTO
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2012