Tuna are remarkable and impressive wild animals. An active and agile predator that can maintain a body temperature higher than the surrounding water provides them with virtually unlimited swimming capacity. This adaptation gives them a major advantage when hunting in cold water, allowing them to move more quickly and intelligently. Their specialized body shape, fins, and scales enable some species of tuna to swim as fast as 47 miles per hour! The monstrous Atlantic bluefin can reach ten feet in length and weigh as much as 2000 pounds (more than a horse!).
Global catches of tuna species are around 4-5 million tonnes but have shown a continuously increasing trend since 1950. The majority of the market is made up of four species: skipjack alone accounts for more than half of the world’s catch of tuna, followed by yellowfin, bigeye, and albacore. The critically endangered bluefin tuna only makes up 1% of the total consumption. As the methods of catching tuna have advanced over the years, the conservation and management of tuna have not evolved as quickly. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, most tuna stocks are fully exploited (meaning there is no room for fishery expansion) and some are already overexploited (there is a risk of stock collapse). According to the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, 65% of tuna stocks are at a healthy level of abundance, but 13% are considered overfished.
The meat of the specific northern bluefin tuna also happens to be regarded as surpassingly delicious, and it has become a sought-after product in both sport and commercial fishing, with anglers rating it among the greatest trophies obtainable. In the 1970s, demand and prices for large bluefins soared worldwide, particularly in Japan, and commercial fishing operations found new ways to find and bring these sleek giants out of the water. Populations of northern bluefin tuna in the Atlantic Ocean have declined significantly since preindustrial times because of overfishing. As a result of these and other losses, the Atlantic bluefin tuna has experienced the largest range contraction of any open ocean species.
There are at least two known populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna, one that reproduces in the Gulf of Mexico and one that spawns each year in the Mediterranean Sea. Some researchers believe that the Mediterranean population actually represents two populations (one in the west and one in the east).
In Europe, the sustainable fishing of this species has been tightly regulated by EU authorities in recent years. At the same time, the ancient “Almadraba” fishing technique is considered a European legacy going back thousands of years. A study on the almadraba method, published in April 2015 by the Committee on Fisheries of the European Parliament states: “Bluefin tuna is one of the most important fish species in terms of value and source of employment in the EU. Eastern Bluefin Tuna trap set (“Almadraba”) harvesting is currently only practiced in Italy, Morocco, Portugal, and Spain, though such a technique was widely used throughout the Mediterranean Sea and is of socio-economic and cultural relevance. This artisanal method is the oldest industrial fishing system known and is currently the object of study by anthropologists, sociologists, and economists as a clear example of human activity developed to follow recurring migration cycles – specifically those of the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus). The almadraba catches tuna as they swim across the Gibraltar strait, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea when they go to spawn, and until recently, on their (“al revés”) journey back when they return to the Atlantic Ocean.”
Going more in-depth, the basis of this fishing method is that the schools of tuna, upon encountering the nets (called “raberas”), do not try to go through them, but instead they follow them, enter the labyrinth of nets, and continue through their diverse chambers of nets, finally trapping themselves inside the final chamber, called the “buche”. The fishing season for the “Paso” Almadraba Traps begins in the spring and ends at the start of summer, and the season for the “Retorno” Almadrabas begins at the end of summer and ends in the autumn.
As a consequence, the same abovementioned paper affirms that: “The almadraba technique used for Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing is respectful to the environment and to resources, due to several characteristic factors of this fishing system including: seasonality, location, structure, low energy consumption because of its working system, and lack of waste generation. Also, there is a limited stay time for the tuna within the structure of the almadraba, and it creates a very reduced “bycatch”, because the structure uses large mesh nets, and the small percentage of caught tuna correspond to adult specimens that have already bred and have spawned on several occasions. The size and flexibility of the nets mean that there is no damage to the cetacean or dolphin populations, and it doesn’t have any influence on the local hydrological dynamics. No other fishing gear in the history of mankind has proven itself to be as sound, efficient, selective, and yet so sustainable and environmental-friendly.”
In the Andalucian province of Cádiz (the political demarcation that embodies the sherry designation), the seasonal catching of large wild bluefin tuna (atún rojo) through the almadraba “hoisting” method is historically linked to Phoenician times. Last month, we shared this update explaining the now-threatened old sustainable architectural features that the sherry area provides ‘’on the ground”. Well, the reality is that these green traditions go beyond the shores of this region, they are also blue.
Each year, the four main local centers of tuna, Conil de la frontera, Barbate, Zahara de los Atunes, and Tarifa, celebrate this heritage during the Almadraba Tuna Fairs in May and June. These obviously focus on catching fish with the traditional almadraba net system, but they have also become a key appointment for visitors. There are demonstrations known as ronqueo where fishermen or chefs take a whole tuna and expertly slice it into its many delicious parts while explaining the process to attendees and allowing them to sample some of the freshest tuna they will ever eat. Local bars and restaurants prepare special tuna dishes and compete to win the prize for the best. In the kitchens of these establishments, they have learned to cook any piece of bluefin tuna!
It is important to point out that, this fish spends the winter feeding tirelessly to gain weight. Once spring arrives, it begins its tireless journey toward the Mediterranean, reaching speeds over 45 miles per hour. Upon reaching the Strait of Gibraltar, the tuna is at its optimum, fibrous and with a lot of accumulated fat, because its plan is to spend the next three months dedicated exclusively to reproduction. That is why it is so important to catch the tuna when they enter the Mediterranean, not so much when they leave it.
We also think that is fair to say that the Japanese have lately conditioned the fishing, the selection, and the way of consuming bluefin tuna across the province of Cádiz. For example, in the past, tuna was almost always eaten cooked (grilled or in stews); however, now, eating it raw in preparations such as sashimi is common.
So now, how many different culinary preparations involving the best tuna in the world can you think of? Say, five? And what wine are we going to pour to go with each of them? Sherry.
Pairing Sherry with Tuna
Sashimi & Fino del Puerto
Nothing too complicated here, just find the freshest Otoro slices, and its intensely rich and marbled texture and melt-in-the-mouth properties will do the rest.
Atún en escabeche & Manzanilla Pasada
A local culinary tradition in the Jerez region, escabeche is a zesty preparation that needs a sharp wine. Here is an easy recipe.
Sesame-crusted Tataki & Amontillado
Love rare steak? Then try tuna tataki. It’s dead simple to make and coating it with sesame seeds before it cooks gives the exterior a satisfying crunch.
Tuna burger with ginger-lemon and soy sauce mayonnaise & Palo Cortado
A shot of Omega 3 for your system and some of the greatest concentrations of umami taste one can handle. The contrast with this top-notch sweet wine will knock your socks off. Two titans battling for supremacy.
And a special bonus here, because, if you feel like not cooking at all, we also have you covered!
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