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The Farming of Bluefin Tuna | Foodbeast Doc

Bluefin tuna is one of
the most coveted fish among sushi lovers. Because of the popularity
of trendy foods – like poke, spicy tuna rolls,
and sushi donuts – fish purveyors have had
to look for alternatives to wild-caught fish just
to meet this crazy demand. We are here in Japan where
an organization called Kyokuyo Feed One Marine
has mastered the best alternative – the
fully farming method – in a sustainable and
environmentally sound way. Let’s go see how
they do it. Our journey begins in
the small fishing town of Ainan, which is located on
the island of Shikoku in southern Japan. The town sits on
Uwajima Sea, a body of water that
is the life blood to meeting the
world’s demands for red snapper,
bonito, and more. But for the mighty
bluefin tuna, it all begins at the
Nanyo Gyogyo Lab. We’re here at the lab,
right next to the tank where the fish eggs
are incubated. What they do is they
collect the eggs from the parent pen,
transport them here. The eggs hatch and then
they’re here for 30 days until they’re
big enough to go back out onto the water. Right behind me is
the tank that they use to transport the little baby
tuna out to the pens where they’ll spend
the rest of their life. Even with a controlled
environment, incubation is the
most challenging part of farming bluefin tuna as
there’s only a 1% chance of survival
after hatching. [Japanese] We’ve been doing
this for more than 30 years. Over the years, we’ve
had issues such as not
being able to get spawns and hatched tuna didn’t
grow well enough. But, we have overcome
issues one at a time and we are doing
really well today. One thing to keep in mind
is that while bluefin tuna are important to us
as humans, they’re even more
important to the ocean and all animals
living inside it. That’s because bluefin
tuna are a keystone species, which means their
endangerment can have a serious impact
on local ecosystems. Specifically, the decline
of tuna can lead to the rise of prey
like jellyfish, squid, and octopus. Researchers say
bluefin tuna is now an
endangered species. But how did we get here? After World War II,
Japan was looking for a way to stimulate the
economy and bluefin tuna was immediately
identified as an opportunity for economic growth. This moment in time
coincided with the invention of deep-freeze
technology, which allowed the fish to
maintain a high level of quality over
a longer period of time, therefore opening the door
for Bluefin tuna to be used in raw applications,
like sushi and sashimi. Pretty soon everyone became
obsessed with the rich, fatty taste,
which then led to other countries wanting
to get in on the profit. Because Bluefin tuna live
in the deepest waters of the ocean that aren’t
dictated by national borders, any country is
allowed to fish for tuna as long as they stay
within a limited quota. But the issue is, this
quota is unenforceable because no nation
effectively tracks their haul. During the years we
thought the tuna business was booming,
the species was actually rapidly declining. What resulted
was crazy inflation. And, while instances of
single bluefin tuna being sold for millions of
dollars in an attempt to appease consumers,
a moment like this sends a clear message that
the demand has become too high for
the ocean to accommodate. [Japanese] There are many
global issues with the
limited resource of tuna. We focused on keeping the
resources and protecting
the environment. That’s why we farm
bluefin tuna. Other companies are doing
what’s called ranching tuna, versus farming. Ranching was a step
in the right direction, but when a fish
is ranched, it’s taken from the
wild as a juvenile and kept in captivity
until harvest. Because of this, ranching
still disrupts the wild population where
farming does not. [Japanese] I’ve actually
dealt with wild tuna for
more than 30 years. I witnessed both the
increase and decrease in
the number of resources. Farming tuna does not
damage the resources and we can continue doing this,
which I think is important. But we learned that it’s
not just how the tuna is farmed but
also where it’s farmed. [Japanese] We have this
current called Kuroshio Current, which directly comes into
this area creating a great
environment for the tuna. Farming of tuna has
been done before by other organizations,
but this process plays out with contemporary
tactics that keep the integrity of oceanic
ecosystems in mind. [Japanese] We check the
quality of the soil
underneath the farm annually to make sure we aren’t
creating any hydrogen sulfide or causing any effect on
other species living down there. Making sure the
environment isn’t negatively affected by
the farming operation is one of the most important
parts of the process. When it’s time
for harvest, they feed the bluefin
tuna as they would on any normal day. Mackerel flies in the air, landing in the jaws
of a forceful, stunning fish
with neon green scales. It thrashes to catch
its feed and then gets back into formation,
swimming around in a circular pattern at upwards
of 30 miles per hour. The process begins
with a hook thrown into the vortex of
swimming tuna. The diver jumps in to
identify the chosen one, while two other men flock
to the end of the boat. It takes a three-man
team to bring this giant beauty
on board. Once they cut out
the gills and the guts, they weigh the fish. These fish are approximately
3 to 5 years old and range anywhere
from 105 to 127 pounds. They immediately place
the fish in an ice chest and head back to land. [Japanese] We also control
the quality of tuna by
using the compound feed to keep them as high
quality as wild tuna. Everyone loves that
deep red color of tuna and feeding time is
when obtaining that really comes into play. They use a moist pellet that
is a mixture of fish meal, and also
vegetarian-based soy enhanced with vitamins
to make sure the nutrition profile and
that deep red color is apparent in every fish. These pellets,
in addition to Mackerel, ensure the fish has a
well-balanced diet. Now that we’ve made
it back to land, it’s time to prep the
tuna for transport to the processing plant. So, here we are in
the room where they prepare the fish to
be sent off. They take those big
blue crates that we saw on the ship,
they open them, they put the fish on a
crane to confirm its weight. Then they measure
to see how long it is, and then it goes
in its respective box. For example, we saw one
whole fish that’s going straight to San Francisco,
and then we saw another box that’s going to Tokyo to the
processing plant to be further processed
into loins or other parts requested by the restaurant. Let’s head to the
processing plant now to see how it’s done. Before entering
the processing room, factory workers have to
put on protective gear and go through sanitation. After that they’re on the
clock and must complete their work in less than
90 minutes. The room is also set below
four degrees Celsius with regulated humidity
to make sure the fish stays as
fresh as possible. You can tell the
freshness of a fish based on its eyes. If you see one at the
market with milky, cloudy-looking
eyes – pass. What you want is
that clear, shiny eye like you
see here. It’s here at the factory
where you get an idea of how diligent
this process really is. And it’s pretty obvious
that these guys have it down to
a science. They know the exact
temperature to store the fish. They know the ideal time it takes to process
these fish. Now, let’s see how
this fish actually tastes. Our journey ends back home
at my local sushi spot in Southern California, where I’m about to try this
fish for the very first time. All right, guys,
it is the moment of truth. We have flown from Japan
back to the United States. And we’re about to try
this fish for the first time. We watched it get caught,
we watched it get processed. And then it got shipped
out and now is the moment we finally get to dig in. But before I take a bite,
I want to draw your attention to one thing
– the fat is really even. It’s a really smooth
cut of fish. It kind of has that
deep red color that everyone craves. Let’s see how they taste. Wow. It is everything that you
want in a bluefin tuna. It’s so fatty, it’s so lean at
the same time, and that’s exactly
what I’m tasting here. That is the real deal. Over the past
couple of days, I’ve learned a ton about
one of my favorite fish. Even though we’re
fishing bluefin tuna at an unsustainable rate,
there is a light at the end of our
sushi-obsessed tunnel. Small things like asking
your local sushi joint where they get their fish
can begin to open some valuable conversations we’re
not having enough of yet. Whether it’s a Google
search for more sustainable options
or finding and supporting places with
awesome farm-raised fish, finding more realistic
ways to be sustainable is the beginning to
hopefully getting to enjoy delicious
bluefin tuna for years and years to come.


  1. Garrett Ahern Author

    Not sure how feeding soy to a mid-level oceanic predator is either natural or sustainable… I am all for reducing consumer pressures on vulnerable Pacific Bluefin Tuna populations, but is this the solution we should adopt? I don't know…would love to hear what others think about this!


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