By Krista Mahr / General Santos City
Tuna on sale at Tokyo's Tsukiji market, the biggest fish and seafood wholesaler in the world. Japan consumes some 80% of the 60,000 tons of bluefin caught on average worldwide each year
Nearly every day at dawn, John Heitz falls a little bit in love. Leaning over a 150-lb. (70 kg) yellowfin tuna, the 55-year-old American, whose business is exporting fish, circles his forefinger around its deep eye socket. "Look how clear these eyes are." He traces the puncture where the fish was hooked, and the markings under its pectoral fin where it struggled on the line. "Sometimes," Heitz says, "I see a good tuna, and it looks better to me than a woman."
Heitz, a blond Illinoisan who sports a fading Maui & Sons T-shirt and a tuna tattoo on his bicep, is an out-and-out tuna man. That's why he lives and works in General Santos City in the southern Philippines, one of the planet's great tuna-fishing ports. By 6 a.m. on an August morning, the heat at the docks — a raucous, clanging, blood-and-guts tangle of 10,000 buyers, sellers, porters and men whacking rusty knives into silver skin — is unforgiving. Boat crews crouch in patches of shade on deck, smoking and waiting for their wages. The boats' hulls, sloshing with bloody ice water, are almost empty, only a few shiny bellies lolling in the slush. Porters have already hoisted thousands of tuna onto their shoulders and carried them to the exporters; they swarm around the fat, fresh ones whose slick layer of slime still smells like the ocean, and whose scales gleam with a hint of the yellow flush they had when blood was pumping inside them.
It's one of the few quality hauls of yellowfin that has come in all week. Heitz jumps into the scrum of insults and jokes flying between the buyers and the sellers. Quality testers sink metal rods into the fish, pulling out samples of pink meat that they rub between their thumb and forefinger and smell. The biggest and best tuna will go for about $700 wholesale, and get whisked away to be washed, beheaded, gutted and packed with dry ice to catch the 10:30 a.m. flight to Manila. By the next day, the fish will be in Tokyo, Seattle or California. By the next night, its meat will be poised between chopsticks. (more..)
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