Hiramasa yellowtail amberjack

Source: Farmed, some wild

Mercury Risk: Unknown

In the original edition of the book, Sustainable Sushi, there is only one chapter on amberjack.  Given the growth of the industry and the differences in species, farming techniques, and management protocols, I’ve decided to address these fish on a more individual basis.  So, I’ve split the original chapter into three pages — one on hamachi, one on kanpachi, and this one on hiramasa.

The term hiramasa refers to Seriola lalandi, the yellowtail amberjack.  Although most sushi menus in North America translate hamachi as “yellowtail” (and vice versa), this is erroneous.  When you order hamachi, what you’re actually getting is S. quinqueradiata, the Japanese amberjack.  True yellowtail is much more difficult to find.

The hiramasa offered in a U.S. sushi bar generally hails from Australian farms, where it is known as “kingfish.”  These farming operations aren’t perfect, but they raise their fish from eggs rather than recruiting them from wild stocks, and they use pellet feed instead of sardines (although the fish-in to fish-out ratio is still uncomfortably high). Fish density in Australian farms also tends to be lower than standard levels in Japanese farms.

Australian farmed amberjack is superior to hamachi insofar as it spares wild stocks and uses low-density farms. Management practices seem to be sensitive to disease and parasite issues, but recent science has resulted in some troubling data. Hiramasa farms may not be as eco-friendly as I had once thought.

As a general rule, it’s probably best to avoid hiramasaI’ve no doubt it’s a better option than farmed hamachi, but it’s still a long way from sustainable.  Stick to domestic farmed kanpachi until the Australian hiramasa farms get their disease issues under control.

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