The Japanese eat 10,000 tons of fugu each year. Here’s what makes the poisonous pufferfish so expensive.

There are over 120 species of puffer fish, and 22 different kinds are approved by the Japanese government for use in restaurants. But one is more prized, and more poisonous, than the others: torafugu, or tiger puffer fish.

Wild torafugu is often found at high-end restaurants, where it’s served as perfectly thinly sliced sashimi, deep-fried, and even used to make a hot sake called hirezake. Yamadaya has been serving puffer fish for over 100 years. Their fugu is caught in southern Japan and airlifted alive to their Tokyo restaurants.

In Haedomari Market the fugu is auctioned off using a bag and hidden hand signals. Each potential buyer puts their hand in the bag and makes their bid secretly, before a successful bidder is chosen.

When selling such a dangerous food, safety is paramount. In 2018, a supermarket accidentally sold five packets of the fish that hadn’t had the poisonous liver removed, and the town used its missile-alert system to warn residents.

The tetrodotoxin found in fugu is more toxic than cyanide, and each year about 20 people are poisoned from badly prepared fish.

It takes a lot of skill and training to prepare the fish safely and know which parts are poisonous.

The poisonous parts can vary by species, and hybrid species are appearing now that are even harder to tell apart. One of the hardest things to distinguish between can be the female fugu’s ovaries, which are extremely toxic, and the male’s testicles, which are a delicacy.

The Japanese government tightly control who can prepare fugu, and chefs need to take an extensive exam before they’re legally allowed to serve the fish. This rigorous regulation means that while the fish can be lethal, far more people die from eating oysters than fugu each year.

All of the skill and training that goes into preparing this fish increases the price. The fish is killed seconds before preparation. And while the process looks gruesome as the muscles continue to spasm, the fish is dead.

This method of killing the fish means that the meat stays fresh for longer, and at Yamadaya, the fugu is aged for 24 hours before it’s served. So what does it actually taste like?

There’s another reason tiger fugu is getting more expensive: overfishing.

Tiger puffer fish is near threatened, and in 2005 the Japanese government limited its fishing quotas and seasons. Another popular edible species across Japan, the Chinese puffer fish, has declined in population by 99.9% over the last 45 years.

Farmed versions are much cheaper, and many more affordable chain fugu restaurants are starting to appear, but the farmed version is difficult to raise, and many consumers say it doesn’t taste as good.

Wild fugu’s high price guarantees that it is safely prepared by an expert chef, and when you’re dealing with a potentially deadly fish, that price is reassuringly expensive.

With thanks to Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in July 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A koi fish seller says business is booming, thanks to his careful attention to detail. He sometimes visits 20 breeders a day to source fish that can sell for thousands.

Koi carp
A large koi being handled by one of Waddington’s colleagues.

Sourcing and selling koi carp – some of the most expensive pet fish in the world – can be both a profitable business and an enjoyable pursuit. This is especially true for Tim Waddington, the owner of Quality Nishikigoi, which is one of the UK’s largest importers of Japanese Koi.

As previously reported by Insider, the most expensive koi fish ever sold was worth $1.8 million.

Originally raised in Japan during the 1700s, koi gradually moved through the rest of the world over the years as people began to take an interest in the vibrant and colourful species.

“My father pioneered bringing Japanese koi to the UK. He opened the first koi-only retail outlet in the ’80s,” said Waddington. Now, with more than 30 years of experience, Waddington has become an expert in the trade and told Insider about how he runs his rapidly expanding business.

Koi carp
Koi have become increasingly popular over the years.

There is consistent demand for koi, according to Waddington. “People are always looking to buy the fish,” he said. To capitalize on that demand, Waddington said he provides customers with the highest quality Japanese koi that he sources himself, which are sometimes valued at thousands of dollars.

Some of the fish Waddington sells are priced up to $2,700. But like anything expensive, people are more likely to buy pricey items as a one-off purchase. This is why selling cheaper koi is generally more profitable in the long run, Waddington said.

A higher price can also mean a greater loss, however, because there’s a lot of things that can go wrong with fish, Waddington said. “You’ve got to take losses as some fish may die.”

Waddington has had some of the same clients for over 20 years. “I’ve got clients in South Africa, Trinidad, Dubai, America, and most recently, India. It’s very much word of mouth which takes time and experience,” he said.

Since Waddington’s main business consists of sourcing high-class koi, frequent travel to Japan is essential. He has visited Japan more than 70 times in his career, spending about four weeks there for each trip.

“When I go to Japan, I’m looking for fish for my own shop but I’m also looking for fish for other dealers. I’m also looking for individual fish at certain sizes, ages, and varieties,” he said. “I might visit 20 breeders in a day.”

Koi carp
A Japanese mud pond where koi carp are grown over the summer months.

He looks for koi with vibrant colours and takes a list with him on trips to find specific koi – perhaps ones with a particular colour or pattern – for customers.

As a result, sellers need to choose koi with prized bloodlines that can only be obtained from selective breeders.

While some may buy koi as a household pet, others purchase the fish to enter them in competitions to name the champion koi, just like in racehorsing, Waddington said.

In fact, one of the fish supplied to a client recently won the South African National Koi Show.

“That’s what people want me to do: find them these fish where they can win shows with them or just to appreciate them,” Waddington added.

Read the original article on Business Insider

What’s inside the ‘world’s ugliest animal,’ the blobfish

  • The blobfish was crowned the world’s ugliest animal in 2013 – a title it still defends today.
  • But drop this fellow 9,200 feet below sea level, and the water holds up all that flab like a push-up bra, making the fish a little more handsome.
  • Between the skin and the muscles is a lot of fluid. And that’s the secret to the fish’s distinct appearance – and its survival.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: This creature was crowned the world’s ugliest animal in 2013, a title it still defends today. On land, he’s got a body like Jell-O and a big old frown. But drop this fellow 9,200 feet below sea level, and the water holds up all that flab like a push-up bra, making the fish a little more handsome. Same old fish, but with a little more support. So, what is all that water pressure holding together?

David Stein: Between the skin, that flabby skin, and the muscles is a lot of fluid.

Narrator: This is David Stein, a deep-sea-fish biologist who was lucky enough to dissect 19 blobfishes in the 1970s. Blobfish look blobby because they are full of water. Under their skin, blobfish have a thick layer of gelatinous flesh that floats outside their muscles.

Stein: If you pick up a blobfish by the tail, then it kind of flows to the head.

Narrator: This water-filled, Jell-O-like layer allows the blobfish to stay somewhat buoyant, which is important because blobfishes don’t have a swim bladder.

Stein: And fishes that have swim bladders are able to adjust their buoyancy. They can secrete gas into the swim bladder or remove it. A fish that lives on the bottom doesn’t need to be able to maintain its buoyancy.

Narrator: So, the Jell-O layer isn’t a perfect substitute, but the blobfish doesn’t need to be a strong swimmer. The predator has a highly specialized hunting strategy that’s perfect for the rocky barrens of the deep sea.

Stein: It just sits there and waits for dinner to come by.

Narrator: If all you do is sit, you don’t need much under your skin. Just watery tissue, some yellow pockets of fat, and a smidgen of muscle. In case you hadn’t guessed, blobfishes aren’t exactly yoked. They have very little red muscle, the kind that allows you, a human, to run a mile or a tuna fish to migrate across oceans. Instead, blobfish have a lot of white muscle, which allows them to swim in short bursts and lunge at prey that on occasion ramble by.

This is a baby blobfish. It’s a cleared and stained specimen, meaning all its tissue has been dissolved to show only the bones and cartilage. Those thin red lines you see, they’re the blobfish’s bones dyed red. If you’re having trouble seeing the bones, you’re not the only one. Blobfish have poorly ossified skeletons, meaning they’re thinner and more fragile than the bones of most shallow-water fish. This is another handy deep-sea adaptation, as it takes a lot of precious energy to build strong bones.

But the blobfish saves its energy to develop what might be the most important bone in its body: its jaws, which also happened to be the reason it looks so gloomy. The fish needs enormous jaws so it can snap up any prey that passes by and swallow it whole, maybe even smacking its blubbery lips as it eats. And that brings us to its stomach. If you’re the kind of creature that eats anything that swims by, some surprising things can wind up in your stomach. Stein found a wide range of foods and not-foods in the blobfish he dissected. Fish, sea pens, brittle stars, hermit crabs, an anemone, a plastic bag, and also lots of rocks.

Stein: Their stomach contents kind of bear out the fact that they’re probably not too bright.

Narrator: He also found octopus beaks, the cephalopods’ hard, indigestible jaws. This means that one of the world’s flabbiest fishes has been able to eat one of the sea’s most cunning predators. If you’re surprised, just think about the blobfish’s thick skin. What would it be harder to grab in a fight: a sack of bones or a sack of Jell-O? Stein suspects it might be the latter.

Stein: If the skin is loose, perhaps the suckers can’t really get a good grip on it.

Narrator: Stein found sucker marks across the blobfish’s body, a hint that the fish might’ve been in some deep-sea fights. So while all of this Jell-O might look a little unconventional, well, it seems to have served its purpose. The blobfish is perfectly suited to life in the deep sea, where beauty standards are probably quite different. After all…

Stein: Ugly is kind of in the eye of the beholder.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in December 2020.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Why Japanese eel can cost over $90

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: This is the most expensive fish in Japan. In January 2018, a kilogram of these baby eels cost around $35,000. That’s more than bluefin tuna, and almost as much as the price of gold at the time.

But catching these eels is just the beginning. It can take a year of work until they’re large enough to be sold. So what makes these eels so popular? And why are they so expensive?

People in Japan have eaten eel for thousands of years. Restaurants like this can sell 40 to 50 tons of eel each year. Japanese eel, or Anguilla japonica, can be found across East Asia, but overfishing and changing habitats have caused a huge decline in eel populations. Since 1980, the global catch of eel has declined by more than 75%, which has had a huge effect on price.

Rui Kinoshita: What is happening these days is the difference in the price is so much each year. It can be tripled compared to last year. Next year can be a third of the year before.

Narrator: Unlike other types of fishing, the majority of eels are raised, not caught as adults. Young eels, called glass eels, are caught in the wild and raised on farms like this. No farms have been able to efficiently breed the eels in captivity. So farmers depend on the catch of young eels to make a profit.

Michio Tanaka: The amount I raise here varies each year, but roughly speaking it’s about 30 tons. About 150,000 or 160,000 eels.

Narrator: Raising this many eels requires constant attention. Michio has been working as an eel farmer for almost 40 years.

Michio Tanaka: As for farming eels, I don’t think eels are easy fish to grow. If one disease spreads or one accident happens in the pond, you can never make a profit. This can be done only through daily care.

Narrator: After the cost of the eels themselves, feeding them is the most expensive part. Two to three times a day, workers feed eels this. It’s a mixture of fish meal, wheat, soybean meal, and fish oil.

Michio Tanaka: I am trying to feed them in a way that food gets around to all 150,000 baby eels. That is a difficult task. I pay a lot of attention to those baby eels. If something happens to that one pond, everything is gone.

Narrator: After six to 12 months of work, eels are big enough to be sold. Workers unload the eels and sort them by size to determine where they’ll be sold. Experienced workers can quickly tell the difference just by feel. Some of these eels will end up at restaurants like Surugaya, which has been serving eel for over 150 years. That high demand is part of the reason young eels are so expensive. The final dish is called kabayaki. It may look simple, but preparing it takes years to master.

Rui Kinoshita: There is a saying about cooking eel. It takes three years to master the skewering. Slicing takes eight years. Grilling needs a whole life to master.

Narrator: Workers prepare eel alive to maintain freshness, but this makes handling much more difficult. Workers remove the bones and cut eels to the proper size for the skewers.

Rui Kinoshita: Finally, grilling. It takes a whole life to master. Until you die.

Narrator: Eel has to be constantly monitored while it’s cooking to achieve even grilling.

Rui Kinoshita: The best eels for us have good texture. Not too hard, not too soft.

Narrator: Chefs steam, then grill each eel three times, dipping it into sauce between each grilling.

Rui Kinoshita: Presentation and taste have to be equally good. When you open the lid, it has to look beautiful.

Narrator: Kabayaki presented in a lacquer box with rice is called unajū. It can cost up to $91 depending on the price of adult eel. If prices are too high, restaurants struggle to make a profit.

Rui Kinoshita: The amount of eel catch is a matter of life and death for eel restaurants. We all are very concerned about it. I myself am concerned too.

Narrator: In Japan, eels are eaten year-round, but consumption peaks in the summer, and it’s become a big part of some local economies. But the high demand has caused concern. In 2014, Japanese eels were classified as endangered, and because of low domestic catch, the majority of eels eaten in Japan are imported from China and Taiwan.

Kouji Yamamoto: When they can’t catch enough young eel, the price goes up. When the price is so high, what can those farmers do? Finding the right balance is currently the biggest problem.

Narrator: There have been efforts to improve the eel population, like regulating fishing, releasing adult eels back into the water, and researching how to hatch eels in farms. But the future of Japanese eels remains unclear, and the price is likely to increase with demand.

Read the original article on Business Insider

What’s inside a blobfish, the ‘world’s ugliest animal’

  • The blobfish was crowned the world’s ugliest animal in 2013 — a title it still defends today.
  • But drop this fellow 9,200 feet below sea level, and the water holds up all that flab like a push-up bra, making the fish a little more handsome.
  • Between the skin and the muscles is a lot of fluid. And that’s the secret to the fish’s distinct appearance — and its survival.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: This creature was crowned the world’s ugliest animal in 2013, a title it still defends today. On land, he’s got a body like Jell-O and a big old frown. But drop this fellow 9,200 feet below sea level, and the water holds up all that flab like a push-up bra, making the fish a little more handsome. Same old fish, but with a little more support. So, what is all that water pressure holding together?

David Stein: Between the skin, that flabby skin, and the muscles is a lot of fluid.

Narrator: This is David Stein, a deep-sea-fish biologist who was lucky enough to dissect 19 blobfishes in the 1970s. Blobfish look blobby because they are full of water. Under their skin, blobfish have a thick layer of gelatinous flesh that floats outside their muscles.

Stein: If you pick up a blobfish by the tail, then it kind of flows to the head.

Narrator: This water-filled, Jell-O-like layer allows the blobfish to stay somewhat buoyant, which is important because blobfishes don’t have a swim bladder.

Stein: And fishes that have swim bladders are able to adjust their buoyancy. They can secrete gas into the swim bladder or remove it. A fish that lives on the bottom doesn’t need to be able to maintain its buoyancy.

Narrator: So, the Jell-O layer isn’t a perfect substitute, but the blobfish doesn’t need to be a strong swimmer. The predator has a highly specialized hunting strategy that’s perfect for the rocky barrens of the deep sea.

Stein: It just sits there and waits for dinner to come by.

Narrator: If all you do is sit, you don’t need much under your skin. Just watery tissue, some yellow pockets of fat, and a smidgen of muscle. In case you hadn’t guessed, blobfishes aren’t exactly yoked. They have very little red muscle, the kind that allows you, a human, to run a mile or a tuna fish to migrate across oceans. Instead, blobfish have a lot of white muscle, which allows them to swim in short bursts and lunge at prey that on occasion ramble by.

This is a baby blobfish. It’s a cleared and stained specimen, meaning all its tissue has been dissolved to show only the bones and cartilage. Those thin red lines you see, they’re the blobfish’s bones dyed red. If you’re having trouble seeing the bones, you’re not the only one. Blobfish have poorly ossified skeletons, meaning they’re thinner and more fragile than the bones of most shallow-water fish. This is another handy deep-sea adaptation, as it takes a lot of precious energy to build strong bones.

But the blobfish saves its energy to develop what might be the most important bone in its body: its jaws, which also happened to be the reason it looks so gloomy. The fish needs enormous jaws so it can snap up any prey that passes by and swallow it whole, maybe even smacking its blubbery lips as it eats. And that brings us to its stomach. If you’re the kind of creature that eats anything that swims by, some surprising things can wind up in your stomach. Stein found a wide range of foods and not-foods in the blobfish he dissected. Fish, sea pens, brittle stars, hermit crabs, an anemone, a plastic bag, and also lots of rocks.

Stein: Their stomach contents kind of bear out the fact that they’re probably not too bright.

Narrator: He also found octopus beaks, the cephalopods’ hard, indigestible jaws. This means that one of the world’s flabbiest fishes has been able to eat one of the sea’s most cunning predators. If you’re surprised, just think about the blobfish’s thick skin. What would it be harder to grab in a fight: a sack of bones or a sack of Jell-O? Stein suspects it might be the latter.

Stein: If the skin is loose, perhaps the suckers can’t really get a good grip on it.

Narrator: Stein found sucker marks across the blobfish’s body, a hint that the fish might’ve been in some deep-sea fights. So while all of this Jell-O might look a little unconventional, well, it seems to have served its purpose. The blobfish is perfectly suited to life in the deep sea, where beauty standards are probably quite different. After all…

Stein: Ugly is kind of in the eye of the beholder.

Read the original article on Business Insider