One fish, two fish, yellowfin, bluefin

September 2021

By Jean Kerr

At the public wharf in the little coastal town where I live, there is great excitement when one of our fishermen lands a bluefin (or any large) tuna. Not only is there great pride in catching such a beast – they are tremendously strong game fish – it can mean big bucks for the skilled and fortunate fisherman who landed it. The fish may have been caught on a longline or harpooned. Think extreme fishing.

Photo by mrsiraphol/

Tuna Tartare in Butter Lettuce Boats

  • 1/2-pound bluefin tuna
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of tamari or liquid aminos
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon wasabi paste (optional)

Wash and dry lettuce leaves.

Roughly chop the tuna into small pieces, about a ¼ inch dice. In a bowl, combine the remaining seasonings with the tuna.

Spoon a small amount of tartare into lettuce leaves and serve.

In some cases, the fish goes from the deck of the boat directly to ice-down in a refrigerator truck to catch the next flight to Japan. In fact, a Japanese restauranteur recently paid over 3 million dollars for a bluefin tuna. While tuna rarely goes for these exorbitant prices, you will pay a premium for top quality fresh tuna – and it’s worth it. But quite recently, a very large bluefin tuna stayed home. Luckily for us, Dover, New Hampshire-based New England Fishmongers had the most delectable, pristine bluefin for sale within 48 hours.

In other parts of the world, like ancient Greece, tuna has been a favorite for thousands of years. In this country, fresh tuna was particularly prized by those who had emigrated from Mediterranean lands, where it is still extremely popular, but is suffering from overfishing. In the 1800s it was known as “tunny fish.”

In the ’50’s, the U.S. was the leading producer of canned tuna. While canned tuna does make a fine sandwich or casserole (a good tuna casserole is a retro guilty pleasure of mine) it is a far cry from a very fresh piece of yellowtail or bluefin. Few delicacies compare with a fresh slice of deep reddish pink bluefin, to be eaten sliced, as tartare, in a poke bowl or quickly seared and very rare.

There is great debate about the sustainability of the Atlantic bluefin. In the northeast, the fishery is carefully managed to keep it producing and prevent declining stocks. According to Kayla Cox of New England Fishmongers, bluefin “is highly regulated. The fish can only be taken with hook and line by small day boat vessels. There is no dragging or gill netting. One is the limit for each boat, and each is tagged and reported so it can be deducted from an overall quota.”

According to the American Bluefin Tuna Association (yes, there’s an association for everything), “The decision by the U.S. to not allow harvesting of Atlantic bluefin when they are spawning is driven by the need to conserve and allow the rebuilding of this fish stock.  The U.S. is the only country in the world that does not allow harvesting of bluefin when they are spawning, and this contributes significantly to the continued health of the west Atlantic bluefin fish stock.” Sadly, other fisheries around the U.S. have not been as successful in their conservation efforts.

So, if you have access to a prize New England caught Atlantic bluefin tuna, you can update your sustainability critics by referring them to both the above ABTA or the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Savor your bluefin and relish this rare (pun intended) treat.

Jean Kerr is the author of four cookbooks, including “Mystic Seafood” and “Maine Windjammer Cooking.” She is the former editor of Northeast Flavor magazine and is a regular contributor to Cruising World.