The other day I was in the Japanese market picking up some fish for sashimi. The seafood case held some pretty good-looking pieces of chu-toro labeled as "Bluefin - farm raised."
Delicious as hon-maguro may be, I (and a lot of other people) have avoided bluefin for the last several years because the fishery hasn't been responsibly managed and the wild stocks have been severely overfished. I'd love to start enjoying the stuff again, but only if it's sustainable.
Farming bluefin addresses the overfishing problem, but does it create others? (Viz. salmon aquaculture and shrimp ponds.) The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch apparently doesn't have anything about farm-raised bluefin. Does anybody have any info?
"So in addition to The French Laundry, Per Se gets it too obviously." ...
"They have their own private buyers who score the top notch stuff anyway."
... well, considering the "market" ( & purveyors ), enough said.
(BTW the thought of "farm-raised", "sustainable" hon-maguro is absurd)
There's a difference between the Kindai and pen raised tuna. Kindai are raised from eggs, although I don't know the environmental impact vs. wild caught-pen raised.
Here's a link to an older NY Times article about the wild caught-pen raised tuna in Baja. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/03/din...
I read this awhile ago but remember the French dude in charge being mentioned. The critique that it takes more feeder fish to raise these tuna is similar to the argument used to raise cattle -- resources used are greater then the final product provides in pure calories and environmental impact...however pure logic doesn't account for cultural practices and human preference.
I don't know how environmental concerns plays out in raising Kindai. It would be interesting to see if the Monterey Aquarium distinguishes between Kindai and pen raised tuna.
BTW, had Kindai at TFL, it was pretty awesome.
I got this email back from the Monterey Bay Aquarium:
"We will be adding a farmed Bluefin recommendation to our website in the future, but it will be an Avoid species. Since the fishery takes from the wild to stock the farms and the aquaculture operations face many of the same challenges as farmed salmon it will not be something we recommend."
A little simplistic, but clear enough.
It seems to me that taking a juvenile from the wild and raising it to market size is a lot more sustainable than taking a breeding adult. And saltwater aquaculture, while it presents challenges, is not inherently bad; there are well-run salmon farms out there. No doubt bluefin farming could be problematic, but surely it could be sustainable if done right.
I'll be driving past Oto's again on Monday. We'll see whether, armed with this info, I can resist the urge to have hon-maguro chu-toro sashimi for dinner.
I know when my mother was fishing for Bluefin Tunsa in the Atlantic boats were regulated to only one Bluefin a day. However, ICCAT regulates how much fish can be caught and where, in Bermuda we are allowed 70,000 lbs of Bluefin Tuna a year, not that anyone catches it here!
Having done more research, ICCAT does have a list of ICCAT Farming Facilities for Bluefin Tuna! It seems there are 69 facilities on record…check it out http://www.iccat.int/en/ffb.asp
I participated in commercially harvesting bluefin tuna ~5 years ago. South of San Diego (Coronodos) and along Baja California are scores of tuna pens full of bluefin tuna. I don't know if those tuna are considered "farmed". These tuna are netted, transfered into grow out pens, fed sardines (and other forage fish), processed to order (size and quantity). On the boat was the "pioneer" of Baja bluefin farming. I have read that there are scores of pens in Austrialia.
I learned on that trip that fresh fish isn't always the best. We killed a couple of bluefin on day 1, ate some of those fish each day, we ran out at day 5, day 5's fish had the best texture and flavor. Aging fish has similar effects as aging beef.
Downsides: Removal of a high end predator (may be the cause of Humbolt Tuna in Northern California?), penned fish eat forage fish, there are anecdotal evidence forage fish are being overfished. A Nor Cal resident has been commenting on overfishing of forage fish. Google Darrel Ticehurst.
Atlantic bluefin are overharvested, I don't believe Pacific bluefin are currently overharvested. A San Diego boat (F/V Shogun) is often chartered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for bluefin tagging in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Thanks, all, for the info. It's been quite an education.
I'm guessing the stuff was not kindai maguro; it was for sale at Oto's Marketplace, a Japanese grocery in Sacramento, CA, for less than the cost of wild-caught hon-maguro chu-toro. So it's likely from a fish that was caught wild as a juvenile and raised in a net pen.
Which leads back to the original question: how sustainable are these aquaculture practices? I understand that tuna are high on the marine food chain, but IMO that's a reason for moderation rather than complete avoidance (otherwise I'd be a vegan). So ignoring that issue for the moment, it seems like there are two major questions: (1) whether removing juveniles from the wild population is better than, worse than, or equivalent to catching adults; and (2) whether the pens have an adverse environmental impact.
Hunt though I might, I haven't been able to find any solid answers to these questions. So I fired off an email to the folks at Monterey Bay Aquarium, and will post back here with any information they provide.
Meanwhile, thanks to all who've responded. If anybody else has enlightenment to add, it's welcome.
I'll be interested in hearing what the MBA has to say however they list Bluefin as a species to avoid and state they are over fished world wide. My initial thought would be that netting juveniles and raising them in pens is just as harmful to the wild stock as harvesting unless of course they are capable of getting the fish in captivity to breed.
I really doubt you can get Kindai Maguro at a Japanese supermarket, supplies are so limited that only a few restaurants in the country could get it (if and when they do) like The French Laundy, Sebo (San Francisco), or Ritz Carlton Dining Room (San Francisco) and I have not yet had it again at one of my local sushi bars who claimed to have stocked it one and only one time.
Chances are the bluefin at your supermarket was from either the Indian Ocean or somewhere around the Adriatic Sea.
I too try to avoid toro or bluefin tuna when I can (tons of better tasting white fish for cheaper), although I must say that kindai maguro actually tasted more bland and uninteresting, at least the pieces I've tried were not fatty at all (the average kindai maguro is a lot smaller in adult size than a wild bluefin).
re: K K
IMP is not an exclusive distributor for Kindai.
Trident in Los Angeles sources kindai, primarily targeting California and East Coast (NY/NJ)
So in addition to The French Laundry, Per Se gets it too obviously.
Maybe someone can ask Hiro Urasawa what his thoughts are of Kindai (ditto for Masayoshi Takayama). They have their own private buyers who score the top notch stuff anyway.
the practice is still in its infancy, and no one really seems to be taking a strong position on it...yet.
here's a little info...
I saw a blurb on bluefin farming on a larger segment of marine aquaculture on PBS last year. The feedback was negative in that the amount of fish fed to the tuna would be put to much better use feeding people as well as the build-up of elements like mercury. But I think that is obvious for those familiar with the diminishing returns up the food web.
It's called kindai maguro and it's something pioneered by Kinki University in Japan.
Also there's some mention of it in this huge sushi discussion.
It doesn't answer the question of sustainability though in terms of the resources it takes to raise these apex predators.