Balfego is a Spanish company that challenges itself with making one of the world’s most controversial fish a sustainable option. Bluefin Tuna is a species that evokes strong reactions from just about everyone. Mention it in social settings and you are apt to elicit passionate arguments alternating from the high praise of its gustatory merits to its condemnation of consuming a species on the brink. This polarization reinforces the importance of what Balfego is attempting to do: make Bluefin Tuna an option that betters the plate and the world.
The Balfego Group is a company that operates by targeting the Baltic Sea’s healthy stocks of adult Atlantic Bluefin using purse seines. A purse seine is a large wall of netting that is used to surround a school of targeted species and harvests the fish as the ends of the seine are pulled together. Purse seines have minimal by-catch and are fitted with nets that have size-specific holes allowing Bluefin under 150 kg to escape. The Bluefin harvest takes place during the summer months when the tunas are just coming out of spawn and depleted of their energy and fat stores. This ensures that they have had a chance to reproduce. The selected fish are then slowly transported to a grow-out area where they will be fed a diet consisting of sustainably harvested mackerel, sardine, and herring – the same diet on which wild tuna would feed.
Once the tunas have reached a desirable weight and fat content they are harvested by hand - literally. A diver descends into the holding pool and spears the tuna through the head, ensuring an instant death. The fish are immediately bled, iced and shipped. This process produces meat of the highest quality because there is no opportunity for lactic acid to build up in the muscle, no stress endured in the meat, and each fish selected has been culled due to its optimal fat content and harvested to order.
Of important note, the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is a separate species from the Pacific Bluefin. Studies have shown that, although the Atlantic stocks status is still considered overfished, the rebuilding plan is working and the quotas that have been implemented are producing positive results. All of Balfego’s fish are documented and the company is continuously working with the scientific community to ensure that their efforts are as much for the benefit of the world’s greatest chefs as they are to the health of the species’ biomass.
Balfego’s operation embodies the artisanal way of life, a tradition that originates from cultural practices built off of five generations of Balfego fishermen. The result of their dedication is a product that is unmatched in quality, a taste of perfection every time it hits the plate. It’s an art, not only of flavor, but of conservation.