What is Sekisaba?

Sekisaba (関サバ) and Sekiaji (関アジ) are ‘designer’ fish known for their high prices.

Of them, Sekisaba is a premium fish that can go for as high as US $50 per fish. So, what kind of fish is Sekisaba and what’s the difference between it and normal Saba (Mackerel)?

Sekisaba is a Saba caught in the Hoyo Strait with a fishing pole by a union member of the Saganoseki branch of the Oita National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative (JF Oita). In other words, Sekisaba is not a type of Saba, but a premium fish created by differentiating the fishing method.

Sekisaba started to become known all over Japan between the late 1980s and early 1990s. Until then, Sekisaba was only known as a commonplace fish that was caught incidentally with Aji and went for US $2 per fish.

However, the Saganoseki branch of JF Oita applied for the first trademark ever in the industry and then grew the brand through methods such as tagging each individual fish by hand. This resulted in recognition of its taste as “Saba that can be enjoyed even as sashimi” (while Saba is generally a fish that loses its freshness easily and not eaten raw), catapulting it to a national constituency  After that, the thorough quality management and branding paid off and the price jumped to 10 times that of normal Saba.

The first difference between Sekisaba and normal Saba is that Sekisaba is caught carefully, one at a time. The use of ground bait is also banned so that the Sekisaba won’t eat anything but the natural diet (avoiding odor). Each fisher is only allowed to use fishing lures they make from fish skin or ragworms. Fish caught in this way are let out into a live holding tank on the ship and brought to the fishing port alive. After arriving at the port, the tank on the ship is checked, the fish size is looked at from the water surface and the approximate weight is measured. This method is called “Tsurugai”. This is because when the fish is placed on a scale, it struggles violently and can injure itself. The fish are allowed to calm down in the tank for a day at the fishing port. At the time of shipping, Ikejime is performed, in which a knife is put into gill parts, the spinal cord is cut, and then it is submerged into saltwater and the blood is let out. After that a processing method called Shinkeijime is performed in which a wire is inserted into the spinal cord to put the fish in a state of asphyxiation. Therefore, there is little damage to the fish, maintaining the freshness.

The Hoyo Strait where Sekisaba is caught is rich in plankton, which the Sekisaba feeds on, and the flow of the tide is fast. The reason Sekisaba meat firms well and is fatty year-round is thanks to the good environment of the sea it is raised in.

If you come across a Sekisaba that so much work has been put into, try it as sashimi, not Nigiri sushi. This is because Saba, which has a peculiarity to it, is unpopular among some people. However, Sekisaba doesn’t have this off-taste and doesn’t taste like Mackerel, so even people who don’t care for fish should be able to find it tasty.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: October 25, 2021

Hirame isn’t thought of as a high-end fish in the US!?

Hirame is a high-quality fish that goes for at least US $50 per kilogram. It can even exceed US $80 per kilogram, depending on the timing and the fish’s body.

Hirame is a typical white meat fish when winter is approaching and a great sushi topping to start off a meal. Also, the taste is so delicate that the original flavor can be cancelled out just by adding too much soy sauce. How the chef expresses this delicate taste is a tribute to his skill and something that foodies look forward to.

In the US, Hirame is often written as “halibut” on the menu of sushi restaurants. Technically the English name of Hirame is Bastard halibut. Hailbut (referring to Pacific halibut) is called “Ohyo” in Japanese. In Japan, the engawa of massive Ohyo is often used as a substitute for Hirame engawa at conveyor belt sushi, but the two are not confused for each other. There is no mistake that Hirame is related to halibut, but they are completely different species. Incidentally, the price of Ohyo is US $3 to $20 per kilogram. It is incomparably cheaper than Hirame.

Also, depending on the restaurant it may be represented in a variety of other ways such as fluke, flatfish and flounder. These terms refer to relatives of Hirame (鮃) or Karei (鰈), but do not indicate any certain species of fish. In other words, there is generally no distinction between Hirame and Karei in the US and to go even further, all white fish are thought to be the same species.

The delicious taste of fish is dependent on the distribution of fat and the amount of inosinic acid. Therefore, fish taste better in the seasons when they have fattened up. On the other hand, people have a hard time distinguishing between types of fish when comparing the tastes of the parts with less fat. The free amino acids in fish meat differ only slightly between different types of fish. In other words, the flavor of all fish is mostly the same. It is only the amount of fat and the amount of the umami component, inosinic acid, that differ between fish, so apparently even sushi chefs cannot distinguish between fish just by eating the back part, which has a low fat content.

This is part of the reason why in the US all white fish is all lumped into the same category and to top it off, the common consensus there is that white fish has no flavor.

At sushi restaurants in Japan, generally there are at least two types of white fish on offer. It is practically guaranteed that Hirame will be in stock in winter. The light flavor unique to this white meat that spreads with each bite maximizes the aroma and sweetness of the vinegared rice. Recently, white fish with high levels of fat such as Kinmedai and Nodoguro, have become standard, high-quality white fish.

The difference between how even these sorts of white fish are handled in the US and Japan is astonishing. That said, flavorless Hirame is not consumed as sashimi or sushi even in Japan. It is served in dishes with strong flavors, like carpaccio. It’s possible that delicious Hirame is just not available in the US.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: October 7, 2021