The Cult Of The Bluefin


ZbBZ (Singapore) - - 期精华 IN THIS ISSUE - TEXT Sasha Gonzales / 郭莎莎 Gi­gan­tic frozen tuna for sale at Tokyo’s Tsuk­iji Fish Mar­ket. (Photo: Tsuk­iji Fish Mar­ket © JNTO)

Ernest Hem­ing­way once called the bluefin tuna the ‘king of all fish’. It was not an over­state­ment 海明威称蓝鳍金枪鱼为 “鱼中之王”,真是一点都不夸张。

Built like tor­pe­does, with their hy­dro­dy­namic shape and re­tractable dor­sal and pec­toral fins, bluefin tuna are pow­er­ful, steady swim­mers and can dive to depths of more than 1,200m. They are large and heavy crea­tures too. On av­er­age, a bluefin can grow up to sev­eral me­tres in length and weigh up to 700kg, al­though catches have been re­ported that far ex­ceed those fig­ures.

There are three types of bluefin — At­lantic (also called North­ern), Pa­cific and South­ern — that are sim­i­lar in ap­pear­ance and live in the north­ern and cen­tral At­lantic Ocean, the north Pa­cific Ocean and the Mediter­ranean Sea.

The Pa­cific bluefin is the most at risk, fol­lowed by the South­ern and then the At­lantic, ac­cord­ing to Ray Hil­born, of the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton’s School of Aquatic and Fish­ery Sciences. Slow-grow­ing, these beau­ti­ful crea­tures can live up to 30 years, but over­fish­ing, global warm­ing, pol­lu­tion and a de­ple­tion of their prey all pose threats to their longevity.

The bluefin is of­ten de­scribed as hav­ing a ro­bust, slightly metal­lic flavour, with a firm and smooth, al­most melt-in-the-mouth tex­ture, mak­ing it ideal for sashimi and sushi. Its pale-pink, fatty belly is es­pe­cially prized.

Like wagyu beef, this part of the fish is streaky, with the un­der­side of the fish — close to the head — yield­ing a more mar­bled tex­ture than the part of the belly that comes from the mid­dle and back of the fish.

Ja­pan is over­whelm­ingly the world’s largest con­sumer of the bluefin, with about 90 per cent of hauls go­ing there, says Daniel Pauly, pro­fes­sor of fish­eries at the Fish­eries Cen­tre at The Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia in Van­cou­ver. In Ja­panese cui­sine, var­i­ous va­ri­eties of tuna are used, such as the yel­lowfin and big­eye, but the bluefin is by far the most pop­u­lar and most val­ued.

“There’s no doubt that the de­mand for bluefin tuna has in­creased tremen­dously over the last cou­ple of decades, but this de­mand is now greater than what can be sup­plied, and it can­not be met by sus­tain­able fish­ing prac­tices ei­ther.”

The soar­ing prices make fish­ing for­tuna ex­cep­tion­ally lu­cra­tive too.

Last year, a 222kg fish sold at Tokyo’s famed Tsuk­iji Mar­ket for a record-break­ing US$1.8 mil­lion (about US$8,000 per kilo­gram or, ounce-for-ounce, twice the price of sil­ver). The buyer of the monster fish was Kiyoshi Kimura, who owns the Sushi Zan­mai restau­rant chain in Ja­pan. “The price was a lit­tle bit ex­pen­sive,” he was re­ported to have said af­ter win­ning the bid. The pre­vi­ous year, Kimura set the same record when he paid US$736,000 for a 268kg bluefin.

Once Con­sid­ered Worth­less

Many peo­ple think that tuna sashimi is a long-stand­ing Ja­panese culi­nary tra­di­tion, but in­fact , Ja­pan’ s in­sa­tiable ap­petite for the bluefin is a rel­a­tively re­cent phe­nom­e­non. In the early 19th cen­tury, bluefin tuna fish­ing was con­sid­ered a sport. Wealthy an­glers hunted the crea­tures for fun, but be­cause they con­sid­ered tuna flesh too strong-flavoured and bloody to eat, they of­ten threw the car­casses back into the wa­ter or dis­posed of them in land­fills.

Bluefin tuna be­came a del­i­cacy only in the mid-19th cen­tury. Trevor Cor­son, au­thor of The Story Of Sushi (2007), notes that the Ja­panese used to re­fer to tuna as neko-matagi (“bad fish that even a cat would dis­dain”), pre­fer­ring milder, more del­i­cate fish va­ri­eties to the dark, beefy and strong-smelling bluefin. But sup­plies of tuna were plen­ti­ful and there­fore cheap, and soon, street ven­dors would be­gin to ped­dle thin slices of raw bluefin dressed with shoyu.

It took still sev­eral more decades for the bluefin to achieve cult sta­tus. Af­ter World War II, many culi­nary changes were afoot in Ja­pan. Western food, in­clud­ing beef, was grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity and the Ja­panese palate grew grad­u­ally more ac­cus­tomed to the bluefin’s bold and ro­bust flavour. Bet­ter re­frig­er­a­tion tech­niques were also de­vel­oped around this time, mak­ing it eas­ier for op­er­a­tors of fish­ing ves­sels to pre­serve vast quan­ti­ties of fish and then dis­trib­ute their frozen hauls more widely.

In the 1970s, Ja­panese cargo plane ex­ec­u­tives be­gan pro­mot­ing bluefin tuna for sushi. Ja­panese planes ex­port­ing elec­tronic goods to the United States were re­turn­ing home empty. To cover the costs of the re­turn flight, the air­line ex­ec­u­tives de­cided to fill the planes with frozen bluefin pur­chased cheaply from Amer­i­can fish­ing docks, bring them back to Tokyo, and sell them at in­flated prices. The bluefin’s rep­u­ta­tion as a del­i­cacy in­creased, and by the 1990s, it had be­come one of the most hunted va­ri­eties of fish on the planet.

The End Of The Line?

Today, the bluefin is the most over­fished of all the tuna va­ri­eties. Com­mer­cial fish­ers use three dif­fer­ent pro­cesses to bring in their catch, depend­ing on the species of bluefin that’s be­ing tar­geted: Purse sein­ing, long lin­ing and trolling. Purse sein­ing in­volves set­ting a large, cir­cu­lar net “wall” around the fish be­fore “purs­ing” up the bot­tom to trap them. Long lin­ing uses a long (of­ten sev­eral kilo­me­tres long) main line with baited hooks at­tached at in­ter­vals. And trolling is where one or more fish­ing lines are drawn very slowly through the wa­ter by a mov­ing ves­sel.

Over the last cou­ple of decades, com­mer­cial fish­eries have faced in­creas­ing dif­fi­culty catch­ing adult bluefin, due to fast-de­plet­ing stocks. As a re­sult, these wild fish are of­ten caught as ju­ve­niles and then held in ranches where they are fat­tened through an over­feed­ing of fresh sar­dines, an oily fish. Once they have reached an ap­pro­pri­ate size, they are then eu­thanised and sold. These ranched tuna are es­pe­cially prized for their but­tery-tex­tured, fatty toro.

Ja­pan has a small com­mu­nity of pole-and-line or hand-line fish­er­men known as the ip­pon zuri who catch their tuna sus­tain­ably, one at a time. To pre­serve this tra­di­tion and also to pro­tect lo­cal tuna stocks, the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have des­ig­nated three zones around Ja­pan for the ex­clu­sive use of the coun­try’s 200-or-so ip­pon zuri fish­er­men.

Of the three species of bluefin, Pauly says that the Pa­cific va­ri­ety is the most threat­ened, to the point where only 5 to 10 per cent of stocks are left. “The stock is on the way to be­com­ing com­mer­cially ex­tinct,” he ex­plains. “On the other hand, we’ve no­ticed a de­cline in the de­mand for At­lantic bluefin tuna and the yield for other va­ri­eties of tuna that are less valu­able than the bluefin is in­creas­ing.”

With num­bers al­ready in free fall, an in­creased aware­ness of the plight of the bluefin may not be enough to re­v­erse the sit­u­a­tion, as iron­i­cally, its pub­li­cised scarcity can drive up its price and pres­tige value and re­sult in greater de­mand.

Ac­cord­ing to Hil­born, tuna stocks are al­ready fully ex­ploited and it does not seem likely that there will be fur­ther big in­creases in catch — not in the near fu­ture any­way. If we care about the bluefin, we should con­sume it in mod­er­a­tion but he feels that the key to re­build­ing the tuna pop­u­la­tions quickly is less about de­mand than about set­ting con­trols to stem over­fish­ing.

The au­thor­i­ties may be l i st en­ing. As part of an i nter­na­tional agree­ment to pro­tect de­clin­ing bluefin stocks, fish­ing quo­tas have been tight­ened. Ja­pan re­cently an­nounced that, as of next year, it would halve the amount of ju­ve­nile bluefin tuna taken from the north Pa­cific in a bid to help boost ex­ist­ing num­bers.

蓝 鳍金枪鱼的流线体形和可伸缩的背鳍和胸 鳍,使它与鱼雷相同,是海中强有力的生 物,可潜至海底超过1200米,体积庞大,异常笨 重。一条蓝鳍金枪鱼平均可长至4米长,重达700 公斤。然而,我们经常在报道中得知不少被捕的 蓝鳍金枪鱼比例远远超过这些数字。外观相似, 居住于北部和中部大西洋、北太平洋和地中海域 的蓝鳍金枪鱼,可分成三大类:大西洋(也称为 北部)蓝鳍金枪鱼、太平洋蓝鳍金枪鱼,以及南 部蓝鳍金枪鱼。

华盛顿大学鱼类与渔业科学学院的贺尔邦 (Ray Hil­born)博士表示,太平洋蓝鳍金枪鱼的 数量最受威胁,其次是南部蓝鳍金枪鱼和大西洋 蓝鳍金枪鱼。这群美丽的海洋生物生长缓慢,能 存活30年,但因过度捕捞、全球暖化、环境污染 和它们所觅食的猎物数量逐渐下降等因素,对它 们的生存造成了威胁。

蓝鳍金枪鱼的味道常被形容为强劲且略带金 属味,其厚实、滑顺,几乎入口即化的口感更是使 它成为理想生鱼片和寿司的上选。其淡粉色的多脂 鱼肚尤其珍贵。它如同和牛一样,具有许多脂肪。 由于鱼肚底部较接近头部,其肉质与中部和背部的 鱼肚相比更具大理石般的条纹。

温哥华英属哥伦比亚大学渔业中心的丹尼尔 保利(Daniel Pauly)博士表示,日本引进约90% 的蓝鳍金枪鱼产量,使她成为压倒性的全球最大 蓝鳍金枪鱼消费国。日本厨师会选用黄鳍金枪鱼 和大目鲔等不同金枪鱼做料理,但蓝鳍金枪鱼至 今仍是最受欢迎且最昂贵的金枪鱼。

“毫无疑问,人们对蓝鳍金枪鱼的需求在过 去几十年大幅增加,如今这股需求已超越渔业所 能供应。换言之,这股需求已不能再依靠可持续 性捕鱼方式来满足。”

金枪鱼不断上涨的天价也使其捕捞业更有利 可图。

去年,一条222公斤的金枪鱼,以180万美 元(约每公斤8000美元,以盎司计算的话,相 当于白银价格的两倍)的破天荒价格于东京知 名T­suk­i­ji市场售出。购买这条巨型金枪鱼的买主 是在日本创办Sushi Zan­mai连锁餐馆的Kiyoshi Kimura。据说他在赢得此投标后表示:“价格确 实有点贵。”前年,Kimu­ra以73万6000美元购 买一条268公斤重的蓝鳍金枪鱼,同样创下当年 的最高记录。


许多人认为金枪鱼生鱼片是日本传统料理中的 “常客”,但实际上,日本人对蓝鳍金枪鱼那永 无止境的需求却是一个相当新的现象。19世纪 初,捕捞蓝鳍金枪鱼被视为一种运动,不少富裕 的钓鱼爱好者以猎杀它们为乐,但由于他们嫌金 枪鱼的肉质气味过于强劲与血腥,所以经常将尸 体放回水里或扔进垃圾填埋场。

一直到19世纪中,蓝鳍金枪鱼才真正成为人 们口中的美食。《寿司的故事》(2007年)作者 Trevor Cor­son­提到日本人较喜欢味道温和且肉质 细腻的鱼类品种,故不太愿意接受色泽较暗、肉

质结实且散发强烈气味的蓝鳍金枪鱼。日本人当 时还称金枪鱼为neko-matagi(即连猫都会嫌弃 的坏鱼)。然而,由于金枪鱼的供应量充足,价

格非常便宜,摊贩们很快就开始兜售配搭酱油的 蓝鳍金枪鱼薄片。


才达到现时的地位。第二次世界大战后,日本在 饮食方面产生变化,牛肉等西方食品开始广受欢 迎,而日本人的味蕾也逐渐习惯了蓝鳍金枪鱼大 胆、强劲的味道。更完善的冷冻技术也在此时被



上世纪70年代,日本运输机开始推广蓝鳍 金枪鱼寿司。由于运送电子产品出口至美国的日 本运输机每回都是空机回返日本,因此为了弥补 回程成本,航空公司高层决定把从美国钓鱼码头 廉价购得的冷冻蓝鳍金枪鱼运回东京,再高价出 售。于是,蓝鳍金枪鱼作为美味佳肴的声誉渐 响,到了90年代,它已成为这星球上猎杀率最高



现今,蓝鳍金枪鱼是所有金枪鱼中最过度捕捞 的。商业渔民会根据所要猎捕的蓝鳍金枪鱼种, 从三种不同的捕捞方式,即:围网、延绳钓或曳 绳钓选择最合适的捕捞法。围网用一张巨大的圆

形网具包围金枪鱼,然后收紧网具底索。延绳钓 是以一条很长(通常约几公里长)且间隔着饵钩 的鱼线钓鱼。曳绳钓则是使用渔船拖曳装有钓 钩、钓线的作业方式。

商业性渔业因蓝鳍金枪鱼的数量在过去20年 里不断迅速下滑,使他们捕捉成年蓝鳍金枪鱼的

过程越发艰巨。故此,渔农常将捕捞到的年幼蓝 鳍金枪鱼放在渔场养殖,并不断以脂肪含量高的 新鲜沙丁鱼喂养之,在它们达到合适的尺寸后将 它们安乐死然后推出销售。这些在渔场养殖的金 枪鱼同样备受重视,因其肥美的­toro鱼肚肉质特 具奶油般顺滑的口感。


次只钓一只金枪鱼的小众渔民ip­pon zuri。为了维 系这份传统,同时保育当地的金枪鱼类,日本政 府特别划分出三个日本海域,专供全国200余名 ip­pon zuri渔民使用。

保利博士表示,太平洋蓝鳍金枪鱼是三种蓝 鳍金枪鱼中最受威胁的,至今只剩约5至10%的 数量。他说:“它已踏上商业化牺牲品的道路。

另一方面,我们也注意到人们对大西洋蓝鳍金枪 鱼的需求开始下滑,次等金枪鱼类的需求则有上 升趋势。”

随着蓝鳍金枪鱼的数量继续滑落,提升公 众对其困境的认识似乎已不足以扭转局面。讽刺 的是,这类的稀缺宣传反而会提高它的价格和声


贺尔邦博士认为金枪鱼已完全被消耗,短 期内不太可能出现大幅增长。若我们真心关切 蓝鳍金枪鱼的命运,就应适量食用它们。但他 认为要迅速重建金枪鱼的数量,关键不只在减 少需求,更多是要采取措施加以控制并遏止渔 民过度捕捞。

有关当局已开始行动。例如,一项预防蓝鳍 金枪鱼数量继续下滑的国际协议已收紧捕捞的配 额。此外,日本最近也宣布,明年起将极力将那 些捕捞自北太平洋的年轻金枪鱼的数量减半。

Se­cur­ing the nets for the next big catch. (Photo: Getty Im­ages)

捕捉到的金枪鱼一般比成人的体型还大。( Photo: Getty Im­ages)

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