Tuna Species

Kuromaguro/Blue Fin Tuna


Tuna or “Maguro” is the most popular fish for sushi and sashimi lovers in Japan (and abroad). It is said that more than 60% of total catch is consumed in Japan alone (and probably a lot higher depending on species)

Now, there is tuna and tuna. Briefly said there many species with many names and very different price tags as well!

The first species I would like to introduce is “Kuromaguro”, or Blue Fin Tuna (or Tunny). It has many other names in Japanese: Honmaguro, Maguto,Meji,Yokowa, Shibi, Imoshii, Shibimaguro, Kuroshibi, and Hatsu!

The best are caught in Winter mainly in the seas off Kochi (Shikoku Island), Miyagi and Hokkaido Prefectures.
This variety is the most expensive and can reach astronomical prices, especially caught in Witer off Hokkaido.
Imported Kuromaguro usually reaches Japan frozen, but in recent years the fish has been successfully raised in semi-wild environments in Spain, Australia and Croatia and arrives in Japan fresh by plane.
Import and sale of Kuromaguro are monopolised by Japanese trade associations, unless you are lucky enough to catch one (careful here as poaching is a major offense in Japan!).
Between you and me, if you want to eat Kuromaguro sashimi, it might come cheaper if you do it while travelling in Spain!
Did you that Japanese importers will fly to Spain and other countries just to check that the fish are bled properly?

Kuromaguro Otoro (fat part)

Kuromaguro Chutoro (semi-fat part)

Kuromaguro Akami (lean part)


Mebachi/Big-eyed Tuna


We are nearing the season for savouring Mebachi or Big-eyed Tuna, afairly reasonable kind of tuna especially popular for its “akami” (lean part)

It has different names according to the areas: “Darumashibi” (Mie Prefecture), “Mebuto” (Kyushu). In Tokyo, Shizuoka and Wakayama, it is called “Daruma” when caught a young age.
The best seasons for catching are during the rainy season or the Fall.
This kind of tuna is mainly caught off the shores of Miyagi, Kagoshima, Kochi, Shizuoka, Kanagawa and Hokkaido Prefectures.

As said before it is mainly appreciated for its lean beautiful red flesh, but also cooked and grilled as “kama”:
Inthe fall it is also a source of toro (fatty part) when kuromaguro is not available.
In recent years it has been extensively caught in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans and in the Mediterranean Sea. It also come frozen from Chile, Peru and North America. It is also flown fresh from Australia, Indonesia and New York. A lot equally comes frozen from South Korea and Taiwan.


Kihada: Yellowfin Tuna


“Kihada maguro” or Yellowfin Tuna” will appear soon on our tables from early summer.
It is mainly caught off Shizuoka, Miyagi and Kochi Prefectures coasts.
Like all other fish it is called other names in different regions:
Kiwada, Itoshibi (Wakayama, Kochi, Kyushu), shibi (Kyusyu, Osaka), Ban (Osaka) and Tuna Kajibi (Okinawa)
Kihada roams over many seas between 30 degrees north latitude and 30 degrees south latitude and even wider depending on the season.
Most of the fish caught in Japan is served locally as sashimi:
Very recognzable for its pinkish colour.
It is also widely appreciated as zuke (first lightly grilled, then dipped into ice water before being cut in thin slices) on nigiri:
A lot is imported frozen.
In Shizuoka try to go for the freshly caught samples coming from Yaizu or Numazu.


Minamimaguro/Southern Blue Fin Tuna


Minamimaguro or Southern Blue Fin Tuna could be called a true Shizuoka Prefecture tuna as our Prefecture accounts for 30% of the total in Japan!
Like all fish it has different names: Indomaguro, Goushyumaguro, Bachimaguro.
We still have to wait for it as it is mainly caught in Autumn off Australia, New Zealand, Capetown (South Africa) in the Southern Hemisphere and off the coasts of Shizuoka, Kochi, Kagoshima and Miyagi Prefectures in Japan.
Mianmimaguro is comparatively cheaper than its fellows as it contains little fat, which on the other hand makes it very easy to freeze and preserve.
Regardless of the lack of fat, it makes for excellent sashimi, sushi and various parts are succulent grilled or cooked.
The parts discarded by humans make for a lot of cat food!


Binnaga/Albacore Tuna


Binnaga or Albacore is very often called Tonbo Maguro in Japan. It is also known under the name of Binchyou
It is caught in the Summer off the coasts of Miyagi, Kochi, Mie and Miyazaki Prefectures.
This is probably the cheapest kind of tuna available in Japan apart of Marlin.
It makes for most of the cheaper tuna sashimi in supermarkets.
I personally like it fried in large slices before eating them as tuna hamburgers. Absolutely delicious and far healthier than a McDonald’s (let them sue me!)!
For people who want to try their hand at making “tataki”, it would be the perfect first step into Japanese gastronomy.
It is also vastly used by canneries under the name of “Sea Chicken”.
It is probably the most popular tuna species outside Japan.
Mekajiki/Big-eye Marlin


Strictly speaking, marlins are only a different branch from tuna, but as it is so often offered as a substitute for true tuna, I decided to introduce it as such.
There are many types of marlins all over the world, but the most commonly caught and eaten is “Mekajiki”/Big-eye Marlin.
It is found in various supermarkets and cheap izakaya. Still it is a very popular as sashimi as well as grilled fish. Even in my home country it is served as “Carpaccio”.
It is caught all around Japan from Atumn to Winter.
It is also called “Meka” in Tokyo or “Mesara” in Kanagawa Prefecture.
kajiki-kuro.jpg kajiki-shiro.jpg
Sashimi varieties came in two main kinds: “kuro” and “shiro” (see pics above)
“Makajiki” (“true marlin”) is peach pink while “Mekajiki” (“big-eye marlin”) is of a whitish orange.
More than 1,000 tonnes are caught off Japan, whereas imports amount to more than 1,100 tonnes.
In Europe and America it is paopular as canned food or grilled.
One can enjoy it as cheap “nigiri” in sushi restaurants.
Fresh marlin should be shiny and show veins bright red.
It is mainly caught at night as it wswims near the surface then.

22 thoughts on “Tuna Species”

  1. Aha !! I think all Tuna traded in Japan are tightly controlled by cartel there. A tuna at tsukiji once it is landed , will change hands many times before it came out of the the doorstep of the tsukiji.
    All imports must go thru local Tuna traders associations, and off to foreigners too. I have to say the Japanese is the biggest tuna player in the world, if I am not mistaken Japan is the only country in the world has a strategic reserve of frozen Sashimi tuna to last for 6 months. Meaning, if the whole world stopped selling maguro to Japan, it can still eat Maguro for the next 6 months. All stored in their deep ultra frozen facilities.

    Binnaga Maguro is the best for cooking, its white meat very tasty compared to other cooked tuna. Superb in tataki as well !!
    I heard in Japan they are selling belly meat of Binnaga maguro called Bincho. Is this a just trend ? or truly its belly meat sashimi really good ?

    I believed the specie you mentioned as mekajiki or Big eye marlin, is not a Marlin but a swordfish ( Xiphias Gladius ), it is the only specie in this family. While Marlin of any kind, Black, Blue, White and Stripped Marlin are member of Istiophoridae family.
    The Japanese categorized all billfishes including Swordfish in terms of the colour of the meat.
    Black Marlin is white meat, Blue Marllin, white and stripped are red meat,
    except for swordfish they called them ” big eye marlin ” despite its meat is pinkish whitish.

    I tried marlin fillets before, I think the tastiest is from the Stripped marlin variety as its meat is less fibrous than its cousins Black and Blue marlin. Stripped marlin flesh makes better lookng sashimi too.

    White marlin is the rarest of all , never tried that one before.

  2. how much of the maguro in Japan is frozen ? my girfriend disputes that its 90% all frozen…please put me out of my misery with some hard facts ..

    1. Dear Friend!
      Maguro is almost 100% frozen for the simple reason that it is best first thawed and then matured for a few days!

    2. Your girlfriend might be correct ! because majority of the maguro sashimi in Japan came from Deep frozen -55 degrees Celsius . Chute-on level. They are far more competitive than fresh chilled ones. So for general population in Japan, to eat Maguro sashimi most likely they got from Deep frozen ones. However I have no idea the composition of the deep frozen ones in the market. Correct If I am wrong, Japan is the only country in the world that has strategic reserve of Deep frozen Tuna and Shrimp for up to 6 months. If let say, there is a boycott of exporting of Tuna and shrimp , Japan can tap those reserve !

  3. I have just discovered “white marlin sashima” in Bali, indonesia. They also call it “Bali Buri” The best (and richest) sashima I have ever tasted! It is pure white in color, beautiful, smooth, and rich texture and great flavor!

    Cara from Berkeley, CA

    1. Not so sure if there is any white marlin swimming in Indonesian ZEE, that is a atlantic specie I believed,……

      Buri is not marlin either, it is all different specie and they dont swim in Indonesian waters.

      If it is white meat sashimi , most likely a black Marlin and in Japan they called it as white meat marlin or ” white meat Tuna ”

      If it is pure white in colour , there was possibility that might Escolar oilfish Lepidocybium flavobrunneum

  4. I live in Kesennuma, Miyagi, and being one of the largest tuna ports in Japan (as well as the #1 shark, saury, and bonito port, according to enkai-shared statistics), I’m pretty spoiled as far as maguro sashimi goes.

    I’m curious, though–what’s the most common shark species brought in in Kesennuma? I want to plunk it into an English children’s song to teach my students, about fish. And plain ol’ “tuna” just doesn’t fit. I’d be much obliged if you could tell me!

    1. Miyagi is a long way from Shizuoka, but I guess that the sharks involved are small ones found at different depths which get get caught in the nets. The Japanese do not catch sharks for their fins so they will release, if ever caught, the “big ones” and only use the small varieties to make kamaboko/fish paste.
      Actually these sharks have only the name/genus of shark and certainly don’t look like the “Jaws” varieties!

  5. Ahh, goodness, I meant to say tuna! *facedesk* That’s what I get for not proofreading. What’s the most common TUNA species?

    1. No worries!
      Actually the most common species, and not endangered at all is bonito or katsuo/鰹 in Japanese. People often forget it s a member of the tuna family!

  6. Interesting stats about sharks, though! I can’t say the taste of kamaboko has grown on me, though, delicacy though it may be.

    1. Kamoaboko is not really a delicacy but common food created to eliminate waste of good food (there are so many fish not eaten for their own sake!).
      It took some time to appreciate it but in Shizuoka we eat it with wasabizuke and soy sauce. You ought to try!

  7. I can’t believe they say that Albacore is one of the cheapest kinds of tuna. We had albacore sashimi last night and it was like eating butter. Absolutely wonderful. Try Sushi Nut to purchase it, they also have great seaweed salad.

  8. I found this article which seems to say that Tuna and other fast fish (barracuda, swordfish etc.) are not closely related. Seahorses are closer to tuna than marlin. Seems hard to believe but here’s the quote:

    “For example, scientists used to put tuna and swordfish in the same taxonomic group, said Thomas Near, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University and lead study author. The revised family tree shows that tuna and seahorses are more closely related than tuna and other fast fish like swordfish and barracuda. The big, warm-blooded tuna and the tiny seahorse are from sister groups that diverged about 100 million years ago, while flounders and other flatfish are the nearest kin to swordfish, the study found.”

    Here’s the link:

  9. Dear Robert,

    Thank you so much for doing all these. Your website is wonderful and very informative, and has helped me a lot to learn, understand and appreciate all the fish and seafood I have been eating at sushi places.

    At this time, I am trying to understand the different cuts of tuna, and I have stumbled upon many terms, and there is not a clear distinction or explanation about them. So I would like to ask whether you could help clarify these:

    So I know the standard otoro, chutoro, akami.
    But what about kamatoro (cheek), kamashita (cheek also?), dandara, shimofuri (snow frosted), jabara (snake stomach), and hagashi toro?
    How can they be distinguished from one another?

    Thank you so much in advance.
    Best regards,


    1. Dear Tencha!
      A tough question, indeed!
      If you do not see the fish being cut, you do have sometimes to trust the retailer’s honesty!
      On the other hand, most of the parts you mentioned are for cooking, not for sashimi!
      Let me check!
      Best regards,

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Why may Shizuoka people be justified in assuming they eat some of the best in Japan?

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