Toro: From Wild to Tank-Raised

As wild Japanese tuna becomes scarcer, one man has a solution -- farming.

February 9, 2009, 6:04 PM

May 19, 2007 — -- You won't find it in a can and it doesn't go by the name Charlie -- but you can find some of the most prized tuna in the world at Tokyo's main fish market. And if you go, try the Toro -- the buttery underbelly of the tuna.

The toro is to tuna what the tenderloin is to beef; its marbled thin lines of fat make it so highly prized that a small bite can set you back $50.

The toro's value is a recent phenomenon. Up until the 1950s, the meat was discarded in the filleting process. But now the demand is enormous.

And it's not just the Japanese who have developed a taste for the delicacy; its value stretches from Paris to Mexico City and even extends to landlocked Kabul, Afghanistan.

That demand is putting a huge strain on blue fin tuna. The population is starting to shrink so dramatically that some fear the fish might soon be extinct.

But some have a plan to save the tuna.

In an unassuming warehouse, nestled at the foot of Japan's Mt. Fuji, businessman Akito Yamamoto has launched an ambitious plan to breed tuna in tanks.

At any one time, he has about 15 fish swimming around and around in his five tanks.

"[In] the larger tanks, they could reach four feet, or about 100 pounds, " Yamamoto said.

However, will people accept farm-raised fish?

"No way," said one sushi chef in Tokyo. "Wild tuna is far better quality and the taste is much sweeter."

But some sushi lovers in Tokyo quietly admit they might soon have no other choice.

"If the price gets much higher, I'll have to stop eating it," one said.

That prosepct leaves some to quietly root for Yamamoto to succeed in his tuna-raising quest.

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