what is ike jime? 活け締め

Ike Jime Brain Spike

In its most elemental form, ike jime (活け締め) is a traditional Japanese slaughter technique that requires the handler to instantaneously kill a fish using a manual brain spike thrust into the fish’s brain cavity. Because death caused by passive suffocation results in a cascade of negative biochemical, biophysical, and hormonal consequences for a fish, ike jime rescues the product quality through a sequence of skilled handling techniques and specialized tools. This is the practice of a considered kill.

Typically, harvested fish are simply removed from water and left to suffocate to death, unconsidered.  Because fish cannot breathe out of water, it will eventually die due to oxygen deprivation. However, death caused by passive suffocation stresses a fish. This stress, coupled with inadequate temperature and holding protocols, robs the consumer of the full range of expression for an individual fish. Put simply, stress has a smell, and that smell stinks.

A considered kill requires the handler to play an active role in protecting the final product integrity of the fish that will be harvested for food. At bottom, the fish’s exposure to stress should be limited. But the practice of a considered kill continues to evolve.

Because “fish” come in a vast array of shapes, sizes, and physiologies, modern fish handling practices incorporate additional steps that serve to optimize the eating quality of a wide variety of fish species. Today, the term “ike jime” may also include more advanced handling techniques that go beyond the simple brain spike. Bleeding a fish (i.e., exsanguination), spinal cord destruction (i.e., “shinkei jime”), and cold storage protocols are no longer optional in certain markets. Efforts to differentiate fish according to measurable standards of quality are coming into focus here in the U.S.

The most “premium” seafood experience is undoubtedly associated with “sushi.” But sushi, sashimi, or any of their derivatives cannot exist without the benefits that ike jime confers. Ike jime ensures that the handler can literally control not only the texture of the fish, but also the visual appearance, the smell, and the flavor of the final product. This level of control is critical to a culinary practice that demands the utmost from the fish in terms of quality. This level of control also explains why fish subjected to this level of control command the highest seafood prices on earth

Ike jime ensures that the handler can literally control not only the texture of the fish, but also the visual appearance, the smell, and the flavor of the final product.

why ike jime?

Ike jime transcends cuisine, and that is because the ike jime method determines a superior grade of seafood product, not a final culinary destination.  Just as nothing requires that a superior grade of beef be consumed raw, nothing requires that a super grade of fish be consumed raw.  Ike jime allows for the fullest culinary expression of that fish, no matter the final interpretation.

Ike jime transcends geographical boundaries.  While the vast biodiversity of fish species around the world is immense, the ike jime techniques apply uniformly.  The science that undergirds the application of ike jime techniques remains as true for fish harvested abroad as they do here in the U.S.  All we lack now is proper training, and proper tools.

Improving the value proposition of an individual fish improves the value proposition of the ecosystems those fish inhabit.  The unique ability to consistently produce biochemically superior seafood products is singularly responsible for the Asian stronghold on the global seafood supply chain, as well as the foundations for the richest seafood menus in the world.  As a result, these ecosystems and the fishing communities that depend on them are protected.  Valuable products make for valuable resources that are protected not only by economic systems, but also by governments.

applying the ike jime handling process determines a more stable and biochemically superior grade of seafood product.

why don't more americans use ike jime?

For most commercial fishermen, the typical dockside price for (wild caught) fish harvested in the continental U.S. discourages a slower, more considered handling protocol.  Lower prices require higher catch volumes, and thus the emphasis on quantity overtakes quality.  Pre-existing habits, aging capital equipment (or lack thereof), and old attitudes die hard too.  Like most industries, the existing commercial industry is biased towards preserving the status quo, and antiquated legal structures lack incentives for change.  Consequently, even commercial producers invested in improving both their product and the natural resources they rely upon are economically foreclosed from premium markets here and abroad.

For most recreational anglers, a general lack of awareness and educational opportunities prevent the adoption of more a more considered philosophy like ike jime.  Moreover, the basic equipment necessary to execute a considered kill is generally unavailable; conventional tackle shops or other recreational fishing retailers do not stock such equipment.  That ends now.



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