Of Boners and cataloguing fish

I have embarked upon a mission to catalog all of the fish on exhibit, including common names, scientific names, and Japanese names, along with interesting facts about these fish.

One thing I discovered while consulting "Probably More Than You Want To Know About The Fishes Of The Pacific Coast" by Milton Love (I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the fish of the West coast of the U.S.) is that I have been mixing up the names of 2 similar, but different, fish.

Many people I have talked to have told me that "katsuo" is Japanese for "bonito", but this is wrong. The Pacific Bonito is "hagatsuo" in Japanese, while "katsuo" is actually a Skipjack Tuna, a species that only reaches about 40 inches in length.

Generally, Bonito, or "Boners" as some people like to call them, are not considered a delicious fish, but Love says that if you bleed them right away and keep them moist and cool they are good to eat.

Another interesting thing about Bonito, tuna, and other tuna-like fishes is that if you don’t store them properly, they can develop scromboid poisoning which is caused by bacteria breaking down the flesh and creating histamines. The symptoms include "nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea…" (Love, p.315).

No treatment is listed, but I’m guessing that maybe you should treat this like food poisoning, maybe take an anti-histamine, and if things get bad enough, definitely seek professional help. Better yet, if the tuna smells funky, maybe you shouldn’t eat it. If the can is bulging and releases a rancid gas when you pop the top, it’s best to not eat that stuff. Scromboid, botulism, it doesn’t matter- it’s not worth risking your health!

This is a bit off of the topic, but my friend Matt asked if we have Albacore on exhibit. We do not, and it seems like they are not an easy fish to keep in captivity, so we probably won’t be having any of those any time soon. Nor are there any Blue Sharks in the Outer Bay Exhibit.

Here’s another weird tidbit. The Bluefins and Yellowfins are very, very hard to tell apart on exhibit. In Love’s book, an easy way to tell these tuna apart is to look at the second dorsal fin. The Yellowfin’s pectoral fin reaches the origin of the second dorsal fin, while the Bluefin’s does not. Also, the Yellowfin’s finlets are yellow, just as the name implies.

Yet, on exhibit, these two fish have morphed to such a degree that even the experts can’t easily tell them apart. Whatever the case, the largest fish in this exhibit (estimated weight 600 lbs) are the Bluefin, which can get over 1000 lbs in the Pacific. Those fish are found closer to Japan, which is unfortunate for those of us in the States, and for the tuna. Irony is a b*tch sometimes…

6 thoughts on “Of Boners and cataloguing fish”

  1. the big bluefins roam and are relatively close to the Pacific coastline at times – maybe even more often than we think. Some years ago, San Pedro commercial fishermen had about a one or two week stretch where they caught (netted) the larger units (500 – 800 lbs) off the backside of Santa Cruz Island. When I was working at Yo’s, we used to hear about the occasional joe lunchbucket fisherman trolling for albacore in the same area – get spooled on 50W with a full spool of 80 lb. – that’s 500+ yards. We used to think these were broadbill until we talked to an old-timer commercial/recreational fisherman that used to actually fish for these things. Could be a well-kept secret that should probably stay that way. Everywhere else, they have been molested beyond recovery – as you well know.

  2. on the subject of the bonito – I believe this fish to be one of the better eating fish. The problem is the care it MUST receive between the time you catch ’em to the time you eat ’em. Bonito have a very short perishability index. That is, even with proper care bonito have a very limited amount of time to be consumed. Must have something to do with the amount and/or type of oil contained in the flesh. Bonito, if prepared immediately – are great eating, even sashimi-ed. On recreational fishing vessels, they have to be bled and put on ice immediately. Even then, they have to be eaten right away. Commercial fishermen would have to take care of them like they do the big tunas. At .25 per pound – that’s not likely to happen any time soon. Are the skippies caught in the eastern pacific same as the ones caught in the western pacific? thunnus katsuwonus?

  3. Regarding the tuna: that is awesome, and something that probably is left unpublicized.
    The Skipjack caught off of our coast are indeed Katsuwonus pelamis, but they are separate populations than those found off of Japan, I think.
    One cool thing about these fish- they are reported to hide behind Basking Sharks and Whale Sharks when Marlin come around (again, from the same book).

  4. Dude, I’m glad you posted that. The “bonita” I am referring to is Sarda chiliensis, not Sarda orientalis. I don’t have any resources that talk about how these fish are genetically or morphologically different, but the species name (derived from the Orient and Chile) refers to where that species was first recognized.
    The page you sent me looks like a pretty good resource. I’m kind of at an impasse for works to study Japanese species and to use for translating stuff from here into Japanese, so it will come in handy. The pictures of the Bonita on that page look very much like the pictures of the Bonita I took at Catalina Island.
    Let’s get a bit more nerdy:
    To make things even more confusing, some of the common names of Bonita and Skipjack Tuna are deceiving.
    Bonita are also known as Boneheads, Bonies, Boners, California Bonita, Laguna Tuna, Magneto, Striped Tuna, Ocean Bonita, and most deceivingly and in this case incorrectly, Skipjack.
    Skipjack Tuna is also referred to as Ocean Bonito and Arctic Bonito (other notable ones include Watermelon, Skippy, Skipjack, Lesser Tuna, Aku, Victor Fish, and for Kohei- Ga-da-raeng-i).
    Japanese is much the same in giving a plethora of names for a species. I must revisit the naming of Scorpionfish like “kasago” and “kashira” as well as the Yellowtail (the old list needs to be updated and double checked at some point) when I get a chance.

  5. As a side note from a cook’s perspective, and as a kid who had to eat LOTS of bonito, what you all say about the importance of quick bleeding and icing the fish, is true. I think the best way to eat bonito (from Japan, not San Pedro!) is marinating it in a spicy bbq sauce and cooking it crispy on the barbeque or making a wicked tataki, smoking the fillets over a hot fire, quickly icing them. Layering the slices with sea salt, minced ao-ba, negi and garlic makes for an amazing experience. Or maybe it’s the sake. BTW, did you know that your grandfather and his brothers fished out of San Pedro before the war, and were catching 2 and 3 pole tuna? Kohei has an old video of those historic days.

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