2008/12/amberjack-kanji-buri-300×300.jpg” alt=”" width=”157″ height=”157″ />Source: Wild, some farmed
Mercury Risk: Unknown
The rich buttery flavor and smooth texture of amberjack has achieved real popularity with American sushi fans. Be warned, however—to get to the bottom of the hamachi question, one must first establish what exactly is being served.
That is not easy. First off, there are four species of amberjack that are found at the sushi bar. To make matters worse, mistranslations are extremely common: Hamachi isn’t actually “yellowtail” at all. And the final monkey wrench: Names can change depending on age, size, and location.
So, let’s start at the beginning.
The most common of the four species of amberjack used in sushi is Seriola quinqueradiata, the Japanese amberjack. It is properly translated as hamachi, although age and location can affect the name used. Hamachi is not yellowtail, regardless of what most menus claim; that title properly belongs to its close relative, S. lalandi, the yellowtail amberjack. This fish is known as hiramasa in Japanese.
S. dumerili, the greater amberjack, is also found in sushi restaurants from time to time, and is translated as kanpachi. Also, new farming techniques have resulted in an influx of S. rivoliana, the almaco jack, which is technically known as hirenaga-kanpachi in Japanese.
Now, on to sustainability.
I know no one wants to hear it, but the hamachi that we all love so dearly is a cause for serious concern. The Japanese farming operations that raise these fish employ some questionable practices, which are likely having a negative impact on the local environment. First and foremost, hamachi is generally taken from the wild and reared in captivity, rather than being raised from an egg. This means that even though the fish are farmed, we are still taking them from the wild stocks. Every amberjack raised in a hamachi farm is one that will never have a chance to breed in the wild—and the wild stocks need those breeders. The exact causes are unknown, but wild hamachi populations have been in decline since the 1960s.
Hamachi farms in Japan also tend to stock their fish in high-density pens. This kind of aquaculture invites a significant risk of disease outbreak. Not only can these diseases be transferred to neighboring wild populations through escaped fish, but the disease threat is oftentimes countered with antibiotics, which can be passed on to the consumer.
To make matters worse, these farmed fish eat a lot of other fish. Farmed Japanese amberjack are often raised on sardines, and it can take up to eight pounds of sardines to get one pound of salable hamachi.
Wild hamachi from Japan is available at sushi bars from time to time, but little is known about this product.
Farmed Japanese hamachi is a poor choice. Due to its dependence on wild juveniles, reliance on high-density systems, and continual demand for large quantities of fish for feed, this is an option that is best avoided.
Amberjack is an enormous part of the U.S. sushi complex, rivaling such staples as tuna and eel. If we want to continue to enjoy it, we have to change our habits. Order kanpachi, or even hiramasa, instead of hamachi, and as a general rule, eat less amberjack overall.
Unsustainable species do not merit our support as consumers. We have the opportunity to use our purchasing power to influence the trajectory of the seafood industry, and one way to do this is buy purchasing seafood from fully sustainable seafood markets, such as ilovebluesea.com. Please visit their website to choose from a comprehensive selection of delicious and sustainable alternatives to less environmentally responsible seafood options.