The Cult Of The Bluefin
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。”
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
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。
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)