Introducing the F/V Ellen Jean, Sea to Table’s single-source for Sushi-Grade Atlantic Albacore Tuna
Captain Greg O’Neill of the F/V Ellen Jean has fished the Atlantic Ocean out of South Carolina for many years. He’s been around long enough to know that the best tasting fish are selectively targeted and handled with the utmost care. A true believer in sustainability and carrying a deep belief that fishermen are stewards of the ocean, he is a constant innovator of his craft. He knew that there had to be a better way to both earn a living for himself and his crew while protecting unwanted and unintentional bycatch. After much thought and research, he came up with a plan… a plan that would not only benefit the sea and its inhabitants, but would bring a relatively new product to market….deep water Sushi-Grade Atlantic Albacore Tuna.
Of course, Albacore Tuna isn’t new. Its ubiquity as a canned food and popularity in sushi and sashimi make it one of the most eaten seafoods in the world. However, Atlantic Albacore was almost completely unavailable to the home cook. That was a shame, as the Albacore is one of the most healthy, sustainable fish in the ocean. Unlike its tuna cousins, the Bluefin, Yellowfin and Big Eye, the Atlantic Albacore is a plentiful fish… you just need to know where to look. And Greg O’Neil thought he might.
Atlantic Albacore Tuna are truly remarkable fish. Weighing in at about 35 lbs of pure muscle with a missile-shaped body, the Albacore is considered highly migratory. They cover thousands of miles from pole to pole, and are actually warm-blooded, which helps them maintain a constant body temperature from the arctic to the tropics. Unlike the Pacific Albacore, which feed near the surface, the Atlantic Albacore swim and feed at much lower depth. O’Neill figured out how to modify his gear and the methods that would allow him to set his hooks at depths up to 200 fathoms (1,200ft!), well below where the birds, turtles and other non-targeted creatures generally swim. The result are lines full of sustainable Albacore with zero destruction to the marine habitat. Unlike traditional pelagic longline fishing where gear is set and left to “soak” for hours, the Ellen Jean’s line is almost always retrieved right after it is completely deployed, which further minimizes unwanted and unintentional bycatch.
The story of the Atlantic Albacore we source from the Ellen Jean does not stop once the fish is on the line. To ensure a sushi-grade quality product, the crew take great care to land the fish alive, utilizing foam cushions to prevent bruising from flopping on the deck. They are then immediately headed, gutted, bled and placed in a tub of super-chilled ice brine to quickly drop their internal temperature. As a warm-blooded fish, the Albacore’s core temperature must be brought down immediately to avoid spoilage of the flesh. Both the bleeding and the icing are key steps in ensuring a sushi quality product. When the core temperature of the fish has been sufficiently lowered and the fish is free of blood, they are carefully packed in the ice hold. After just a few days, Greg and his crew return to port with a product they are extremely proud of in so many ways.
After the tuna is loined, it is flash-frozen at -30F degrees, then glazed with saltwater to preserve the flavor and quality that Greg O’Neill and the crew of the Ellen Jean have worked so hard to create. The flesh of our Atlantic Albacore Tuna is a rosy pink, more reminiscent of Yellowfin or Ahi Tuna than their paler Pacific cousins. The texture is firmer, making it easier to slice for sushi or sashimi. But most importantly, it is incredibly delicious. This silky, buttery tuna can be prepared in many ways in the home kitchen, and if you’ve never had Sushi-Grade Albacore before it is a revelation. Grilled, smoked, pan-seared or simply eaten raw, it might be the best fish you’ve never tried.
Sea to Table is incredibly proud to source our Wild Atlantic Albacore from the F/V Ellen Jean out of Yonges Island, South Carolina. We embrace Greg O’Neill’s philosophy of selective harvesting; catching only what you intend to keep and leaving the ocean’s habitats healthy. He and others are finding creative solutions and making a real impact on the American fishing industry. Like Sea to Table, Greg and his crew want to help American’s eat better (and more sustainable) fish more often.