Current Waters: The Way Of Shinkei-Jime And Iki-Jime

Capt. Carl Bois •

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The striper fishing and bluefish fishing are status-quo. Bluefish have yet to steal the show, but they are in the mix. The stripers continue to be great from the beach or the boat. The beach fishing has slowed down a bit and efforts there should focus at nighttime. My beach go-to’s at night are the black and purple (blurple) SP minnow and/or the black pre-rigged, double-hook sluggo. That is when I actually get to go beach fishing. Typically I find the painfully slow retrieve to be the most effective.

We eagerly await fluke coming in. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

The amazing tuna bite that led last week has dispersed, but they are still there to be caught. The right place at the right time goes a long way with bluefin tuna.

Coming up next weekend is a great excuse to go fishing. The first Jamie Topham Fishing tournament to support the scholarship fund in his name is from June 28 to Sunday June 30th. Jamie was a Nantucket firefighter who loved being on the water and casting a line. This tournament honors his memory and helps support the local scholarship fund.

There are points for fluke, bluefish, scup, tautog, sea robin, bonita, false albacore, striped bass, and black sea bass. Sign up for the tournament is Friday June 28th from 5 to 7 p.m. at Fusaro’s restaurant at 17 Old South Road. Wet lines in at 8 p.m. June 28th. The tournament ends with a cookout on Sunday at the Admiralty Club. Keep an eye out for more info about the tournament or just stop in at Fusaro’s on Friday.

I learned a new technique recently that I am adopting on my boat. Instead of a technique for catching fish, it’s a method for extending the freshness of fish in the most humane way possible. Well, it’s new to me, but it’s actually an old technique that originated in Japan.

My friend, Bailey Raith, joined me on a charter on Topspin when he was back in town for a few days and taught me the shinkei-jime and iki-jime techniques. Since then, we’ve been using the tools Bailey gave me, mostly on stripers, and the results have been pretty good. We even used the method on the bluefin tuna we caught last week.

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The shinkei-jime and iki-jime technique.

Ike-jime and shinkei-jime are Japanese methods of dispatching fish that are more humane and which better preserve the quality of a fish. These techniques result in fish with a longer shelf life that is richer in color with a cleaner flavor and a more desirable texture. First, a fisherman performs ike-jime by inserting a spike through the brain of a fish to euthanize it. Shinkei-jime, the dispatch of the nervous system, comes next. This requires running a wire through the fish’s spinal column to stop all nerve and electrical functions. Then, the fisherman bleeds the fish out and puts the fish on ice, using dry-packed ice to cool the fish nice and slow.

I tried to look it up, but details of when ike-jime came about are vague. Some sources say 200 years ago and others say it originated in the 1600s when a Japanese fisherman washed ashore in Korea and learned the technique there. Whatever the origin, the method has started to become more popular in the west and the results have been very positive.

Raith originally learned the technique from Japanese chef, Junya Yamasaki, who taught it to a handful of commercial fishermen in California. Raith, who now is in the LA area, has ties to Nantucket and knows the island fishery. Yamasaki is the chef of the progressive Japanese restaurant Yess in Los Angeles. When he opened his LA restaurant in 2020, he was disappointed by the quality of what distributors were supplying. He found a solution by teaching a select number of commercial fishermen how to process their catch through the ike-jime and shinkei-jime methods, including Bailey Raith (who operates as San Ysidro Seafood).

Why does it work? Together, ike-jime and shinkei-jime significantly minimize the release of stress hormones and chemicals that normally occur when an animal dies, extending the usable storage life of the fish for days.

I’ve definitely learned over the years that the way a fish is handled once it comes aboard is what truly makes the difference in terms of taste and quality. I’m always looking for ways to keep the catch fresh and I am a new convert.

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The tools of shinkei-jime and iki-jime.

Learning the technique was one thing, but perfecting the equipment to accomplish shinkei-jime and iki-jime took some trial and error for Raith. Bailey is now so “hooked” on the technique that he tried to perfect the tools for the fish he’s been catching. He custom-made the various-sized spikes and wires used to perform these methods in his garage in Santa Barbara. He gave me a set to use on our Nantucket fish and plans to commercially sell these tools in the near future. Different-sized tools and wires work best for the different species and sizes of fish – it’s not one size fits all.

Raith explained to me that he was interested in the technique for humane reasons, but also because it helps create less waste in the restaurants he supplies. The extra shelf life keeps fish at high quality for longer. If you do it right, it can last for weeks and never get “fishy.” Bailey said, “I’m allowed to catch a lot fewer fish, so I want to make the ones I can catch last longer.“

If you’re interested in learning, there is a nice cartoon depiction of the method here. Or you can join me for a striper trip where we’ve been practicing this method for dispatching the fish we keep. You can test your tastebuds with your own catch.

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