Update: Sea bass / Suzuki

I’ve been meaning to put this update together for a couple of weeks, but tour-related issues have forced me to keep putting it off.  Well, no more!  It’s time to talk about suzuki!

Ooh, I’m so mysterious!

This isn’t as much a ranking update as it is the addition of some interesting information to what I know about Japanese sea bass (Lateolabrax japonicus), which admittedly isn’t a whole lot.  This is a poorly understood fish from a notoriously opaque industry so I haven’t had a lot to go on.  Also, to be honest, from the perspective of one who is primarily concerned about explosive sushi demand here in North America, it’s not really that relevant.

Not me. I’m from Palm Springs.

Most suzuki served here in the United States is a hybridized striped bass, Morone saxatilis x chrysops.  They are raised in closed-containment tank farms in southern California, Arizona, and Texas, and from a sustainability perspective, they’re fantastic.  We’re talking a net positive increase in protein (the fish-in-to-fish-out ratio is usually about 0.7:1, so only seven-tenths of a pound of wild fish is necessary to produce one pound of salable striped bass), as well as clean facilities that are sequestered within a series of locks and filters and thus pose no significant threat to the local environment in terms of genetic disturbance, effluent discharge, or disease transmission.  Good stuff.

With so many US sushi bars using farmed striped bass as suzuki, I haven’t really been under a lot of pressure to dig into the Japanese sea bass fishery and farming industry.  That being said, this is interesting information, so why not spread it around?

It seems to be the case that the suzuki industry in Japan is a bit more stratified than I had thought.  Similarly to hamachi, this fish seems to be known by different names depending on size an age.  The best stab that I have at this right now is as follows:

under 30cm Hane (Hanego)
from 30 to 50cm Seigo
from 50 to 70cm Hukko
from 70 to 90cm Suzuki
over 90cm Nyudo

This, of course, raises a couple of questions that I do not currently have an answer to:

  • Is there a demand within the sushi industry for all five sizes of sea bass?
  • Are smaller sizes more expensive than larger ones (such as is the case with kohada), or perhaps larger sizes are more expensive than smaller ones (more similar to hamachi)?

Within the sushi industry, this type of differentiation by size is often an indication of a predilection for a certain size of fish.  This can be troubling from a sustainability perspective.  If young fish are exclusively targeted, they may be taken before they have an opportunity to breed and thus the stock can be weakened.  If larger fish are taken, the target pool of fish is necessarily smaller (due to the mortality experienced by the fish population) and the fishery is concentrating on only the largest breeders, which are again necessary for a healthy stock.

It also seems to be the case that the farmed suzuki commonly found in Japan is often referred to as tairiku-suzuki.  This may or may not be L. japonicus.

If anyone has any further information on any of these issues concerning suzuki and/or suzuki preferences within Japan, please email me or respond directly to this post.

I should mention that two friends and colleagues of mine, Mr. Fukuda Masashi and Mr. Kenya Nozaki, are both strong advocates of sustainability within the sushi industry, and have been invaluable in my research into the suzuki topic.  I look forward to their continued participation here at www.sustainablesushi.net.

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1 Comment

Apr 28, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Nice article. Haven’t had sushi in a while. I’ll be following your blog to see what new information you can uncover. Thank you.



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