Business

Looney tuna: a fish story

Jill Cooper Robinson,Ian Brown November 13 1978
Business

Looney tuna: a fish story

Jill Cooper Robinson,Ian Brown November 13 1978

Looney tuna: a fish story

The sight of Koji Kobayashi leaning into an 800-pound tuna carcass always reassures businessman Jay Ettman and the residents of Indian Harbour, Nova Scotia. Each spring the tiny fishing village 20 miles south of Halifax prepares to satisfy the yearnings of 100 million Japanese for sashimi, a traditional delicacy best prepared with the raw flesh of the fish Ettman fattens on his tuna ranch.

Eight years ago, all that sandwich filling was going to waste. Snared in fishermen's mackerel nets, they contained too much mercury for North American consumption and were slaughtered. At the urging of Japanese friends, Ettman worked with maritime fish-research teams and both federal and provincial fisheries departments to perfect his ingenious tuna ranching and shipping system by 1975. For Ettman, at 63, it’s the ultimate retirement home at the end of a lifelong package tour.

The harvest begins in St. Margaret Bay with mackerel traps equipped with tunnels to 15-metre-deep, oval-shaped tuna cor-

rals in 100-metre by 50-metre sections of the bay cordoned off by twine netting. Tuna make their way into the traps while summering off the Maritimes on the second leg of an annual round trip that begins in the Gulf of Mexico (where they spawn) and continues through the Maritimes across the Atlantic to Norway, down the European coast to the Mediterranean, and back to the Gulf. The ones that make it into Ettman’s corrals to stay are about 22 years old (they live to about 24) and weigh around 800 pounds. Fishermen in whose nets they are trapped are paid 64 cents a

pound, three to four times the price tuna fetched prior to Ettman’s arrival. The tuna will gain 200 to 250 pounds as Ettman feeds each one 50 pounds of mackerel and herring daily for six months. At season’s peak, 700 gourmandizing tuna fatties roam the pens that double as natural observation tanks.

By late September, harvesting begins with Ettman a bystander as his Japanese technicians do their internist’s samurai act and half-ton, beheaded, de-tailed fish are placed in 2°C containers. As many as 20 tuna can be harvested and packed one day, trucked to New York the next, and flown to Japan the third, appearing as sashimi the fourth.

Ettman estimates the fish ranch generates $1.5 million in income for the community from employment, a blossoming tourist trade, and the three million pounds of herring and mackerel he buys locally every, year. As for himself, the refugee from the bothersome world of journalism and detective fiction reels in a $40,000 annual salary from an initial investment of $50,000. The gentle blessings of maritime commerce have only just begun. "I thought I’d retired,” Ettman explains, "and I’m having the time of my life.

Jill Cooper Robinson

Ian Brown