Fishermen focus on landing quality tuna sashimi

Fisher-turned-entrepreneur Muthu Vel of Puducherry has trained the fishing community to land high-quality tuna, which is now fetching record prices.

Fisher-turned-entrepreneur Muthu Vel of Puducherry has trained the fishing community to land high-quality tuna, which is now fetching record prices.

The massive $145,000 auction of 211 kilograms of bluefin tuna at the first 2022 tuna auction in Tokyo may not have any immediate impact on Mothu elephant in Puducherry, or his bank account. But he is using the news to inspire fishermen in his area to get good quality tuna. “See: it can fetch record prices,” he says.

Since 2018, fisherman-turned-entrepreneur Muthu Vel has trained a group of about 150 fishermen to handle the fish, prized by Japanese chefs, to improve the quality of what is brought ashore. “The quality of the tuna arriving in India is poor. This is because the fishermen are not trained to handle the fish, their small boats are not well equipped and do not have what it takes to keep the catch fresh,” says Abdul Samad, chief scientist, CMFRI in Kochi.

In 2015, he opened Muthu Vel Aurofish, in Muthiyalpet, Puducherry, with his wife Anitha, which serves fresh seafood. Saku Block, the premium tuna used in sushi, was introduced in November 2021 and was honored by the Ministry of Fisheries, Government of India, in the category of Best Infusion/Infusion Technology. Muthu Vel has since joined online auctions to get the best price ($1,250 for 500 grams) for his quality Saku Block.

Yellowfin tuna in Indian waters

Muthu Vel and Anitha run Aurofish seafood shop at Muthiyalpet in Puducherry

India is one of the largest producers of yellowfin tuna, with an annual catch ranging from 32,000 to 35,000 tons. Used in fine Japanese cuisine, the meat of fast-moving predatory fish is used in a wide variety of foods, from gourmet meals to canned foods and pet foods. The price is determined by the quality of the meat, which can range from $100 for a whole fish to 3,000 rupees per kilo. Seshmi tuna comes from fish, caught by longline, a technique that uses hooks equipped with bait. Fish are caught under the Thermocline, a distinct layer of water of varying temperatures.

Excellent yellowfin saku is popular among Japanese chefs for its symmetry, making it ideal for sashimi and other sliced ​​presentations. “We catch a lot of tuna but only good quality meat fetches an excellent price. This is the only way fishermen can benefit from it,” says Muthu Vel, adding that the quality of the tuna depends on how the fish is handled after it is caught and before landing.

Muthuvel believes in sustainable fishing and, as part of the training, provided snow and ice boxes for the fishing boat. He also taught local fishermen how to keep the catch as fresh as possible. “Catch live fish, bleed and cool.”

“Quality is guaranteed if the fish is scientifically handled,” says Muthu Vel, who learned to make Saku Block, or rectangular fillet, from a Japanese buyer. Experience comes from experience and also requires a special knife.

He remembers catching a huge tuna weighing 85 kilograms, 60 nautical miles from the waters of Puducherry, and indicates that the Bay of Bengal is rich in this species. Tuna follows its food in the oceans, whether it is in the shallows of anchovies, mackerel, sardines or the like and migrate long distances

Sustainable fishing in Pumidaka

    Local fishermen transport tuna fish

Local fishermen transporting tuna fish | Image source: Harry Mardinal

Another champion of sustainable tuna fishing is Kochi-based Tarun Kurushingal, who has trained fishermen in the village of Pudimadaka in Andhra Pradesh to handle the catch on board. “Tuna can sell for as low as $100 a whole fish to about 3,000 rupees per kilogram. Getting the fish to that quality where it gets an excellent price is the challenge,” says Taron, adding that the Japanese have a way of retaining the freshness of the meat.

Tarun’s Cross Currents supports the community with training and provides them with ice, ice boxes, tools, and a buy-back offer. The catch is graded and processed and the high-quality meat is transported to Thailand for added value, which is what Muthuvel does at the source.

“I believe the business should be run sustainably with smaller boats, smaller quantities of fish, shorter voyages and smaller crews, like the way the Muthu Vel works. Super fishing vessels clean the waters of all the fish and that is not good for the country or the fishing community. It affects the The livelihoods of fishermen and also affects the water environment,” says Tarun who, via currents, moved his sustainable community project to Visakhapatnam during the pandemic. This year, he says, they have already processed “a few 100 tons of tuna.”

Handling tuna on board

Sashimi tuna comes from longline fish that weighs at least 25 kg

Fish are lowered onto the boat on a soft surface such as bedding to avoid bruising of the flesh

It is stapled to avoid damaging it and also to avoid the formation of lactic acid.

Incisions are made to bleed the fish and die.

Then the nostrils and guts are removed and the cavity well cleaned.

The cavity is filled with snow and the fish is completely covered with snow in suspension. The tuna is now ready for further processing once it reaches the shore.

Faraz Javid, director of Abad Fisheries and founder of Wildfish Seafood Store, a gourmet fish cold chain in Kochi, says the government has made several attempts to train fishermen to maintain quality tuna on board. “Quality cannot be restored upon landing,” he says, adding that the four common types of tuna common in Indian waters are Big eye, Yellow fin, Albacore and Skipjack.

Abdul-Samad believes that the great potential of yellowfin tuna has not been tapped in India, and he praised the small efforts of entrepreneurs such as Muthu Vale. He adds that while the waters of Lakshadweep and Andaman Islands are rich in it, the ports of Kochi and Vizhinjam lead to tuna landings followed by Visakhapatnam and Mangaluru.

Meanwhile, Muthu Vail recalls the moment he first tasted sushi at the Japanese Consulate in Bengaluru as he was invited to join the Japan National Day Reception on February 21, 2020. He wrote of his “feeling happy” when eating the famous gourmet food and posted a photo of it on Instagram. “We fishermen now look at tuna completely differently,” he says with a laugh over the phone from Puducherry.

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