There’s no denying the enduring popularity of sushi in the U.S. But many consumers may not know that the seafood used in sushi is seldom from U.S. waters and most often imported from Japan. To source sashimi-grade fish, sushi chefs are forced to look beyond the local fishing fleet because of how the fish is handled after it’s caught. Sashimi-grade refers to high quality fish that can be consumed raw. Achieving this standard of quality requires specific handling techniques that most fishermen in the U.S. are unfamiliar with, leading sushi chefs to pay top dollar for fish imported from Japan.
Building markets for sashimi-grade seafood from here in the Gulf of Maine has the potential to add value for local fishermen. With New England fishermen facing steep reductions in allowable catch for once high-volume species, it’s critical that they make the most of every species and pound that they land.
Through funding from the Saltonstall-Kennedy grant program, GMRI is working with fishermen, chefs, restaurateurs, and distributors to build these markets in the region. Last month, fishermen from Port Clyde, Maine to Marshfield, Massachusetts participated in training workshops to learn about quality handling practices.
Each training session featured veteran UK fisherman, Chris Bean, who has built a thriving business supplying several high-end London sushi restaurants. Over the past several years, Chris has developed his fishing business to incorporate quality-handling practices including the ike jime method, a Japanese fish killing method that many high-end sushi restaurants require. This process involves killing the fish by inserting a wire along the spinal cord, destroying the fish’s central nervous system and preserving the quality of the flesh by delaying the onset of rigor mortis. Together with proper catch and handling techniques like bleeding and icing, this process earns Chris and his crew top dollar from some of London’s leading restaurants.
While the workshops focused on the technical aspects of these quality handling practices, they also included discussions on market demand and supply chain logistics. With a growing cadre of chefs and retailers eager to try local sashimi-grade products, it’s evident that market demand is high. However, ensuring that the product from fishermen is top quality and consistent will be key to keeping these new markets open.
In the coming months, fishermen who participated in the workshop are invited to experiment with these new techniques and receive feedback from chef participants.
Meanwhile, the project team will begin strategizing around supply chain challenges and explore opportunities for a shared use equipment scheme while also planning a second round of training sessions for the end of February. Additionally, to better understand consumer market demand, the team has distributed a survey gauging consumers’ willingness to pay for local sashimi products.