I walk into the Tsukiji and I look at my iphone to check the time watching carefully not to be distracted and run over. It’s almost 05h00 as I prepare my day. I haven’t any real interest in the auction although many foreigners dream to go. I am keen to see the work of the cutters (Maguro kiri Bocho) dissecting hon maguro before the Tsukiji closes in less than 6 months.
It will re-open in Toyosu an emerging area expecting a new and shiny facility with a higher cost to market vendors. I am told many businesses will not move due to the high cost of entering into the new age fish facility. Speaking with a fish vendor in Tsukiji and I ask, “you must be excited to leave?”, his reply was, “I love it here I would stay.” It is clear many Japanese vendors would like to stay here, and I understand why. Japanese enjoy status quo, something common in Japan, change is best left untouched.
I watch them cart in some of the finest hon maguro on planet earth, and I’ll have a chance to taste it. I am with a third generation family business who deal only in domestically caught tuna, they only cut tuna, no other fish. The owner explains there are two types of tuna this time of the year, netted and long line. I have the chance to watch the long line be carted into the shop, it seems the organization is perfect and it is.
The fish impeccable, I am in awe, I am stunned because I have been to the fish market 50+ times and am always excited to watch the process. I am careful but almost trampled, you need to be agile to move to avoid the hysteria of the market aisles, it is both hectic and dangerous. It isn’t a place for amateurs as there is danger everywhere you look, everywhere.
I am a tuna fanatic, experienced how to move, where I can stand to avoid professionals who are not impressed to see a gaijin watching the tuna theatre. The tension rises as some chefs start to arrive, the tuna has it’s moments, and it needs the right moment and time to get sold. We are talking high prices, fish that’s just right and it doesn’t mater because it’s all about the right fish getting into the right hands.
I talk with the vendor, he is inquisitive asking my views on tuna, but I am an amateur, so I can’t say much. The last things I want to do is make myself look foolish. I am not a pro, far from it, the vendor is busy and I am here because I am considered otaku after 35 years. Maybe not but there aren’t many people who chase fish as much as I do. I am dedicated to my dream, seeing, tasting and analyzing fish from my perspective as a voyeur.
I have a call, its my brother-in-law, he asks me “what about tuna fish from Mexico” and I am not sure how to respond. I think to myself it is probably okay for the domestic market and that’s all. I am not only concerned only about where tuna comes from, we are concerned about what, where and how it’s handled. The cut the section, loin and handling and of course the type of species. We cannot generalize about fish, and there are so many factors that introduce the taste.
The international trade in fresh bluefin developed in the 1970s, when methods of refrigeration and air-cargo handling became sophisticated enough that a giant bluefin could be caught or harpooned off the coast of New England on a Monday, and be auctioned fresh in Tokyo on Wednesday. Until then, bluefin were primarily a popular game fish, attracting celebrity sportsmen such as Hemingway.
Bluefin were a complete nuisance to commercial fishermen in the Northeast, getting tangled in their nets and yielding pennies a pound-and then only when the cat-food business was brisk. Americans did not enjoy eating bluefin.
Once the heady prices at Tsukiji became available to nearly every bluefin boat in the world, a fishing frenzy followed. Purse-seine technology involving vast nets that can be drawn closed around entire schools of giant bluefin, meant that more fish could be caught by one boat in one year than by all the traditional fishermen in the world combined! By the 1990s, the world bluefin population had been reduced by 80 to 90 percent. Quotas have been enacted and poorly enforced.