Ike Jime or Bust: One Texan's Battle with Gulf Sushi

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Courtesy of Facebook
Jim Naismith with a fresh catch.
"When you can get sushi in Victoria, you know the market has changed," laughs Jim Naismith over the phone. Naismith lives and works in Corpus Christi, where a strong Gulf breeze has kept the town cooler than much of the heat-wilted state this summer. It's the Gulf that Naismith lives and breathes, a fisherman since before he was old enough to hold his own pole.

Naismith runs a hydrographic survey business that takes up most of his time. But on the side, he started Sashimi Grade a year-and-a-half ago, a business that sells ike jime'd fish to local chefs and restaurants. Or at least it did.

"I'm gonna convert it back into a hobby," says Naismith with a sigh and a chuckle. "I have freezers full of sashimi-grade fish in my garage," fish he's holding on to for now, because it's the last of the Gulf sushi fish he'll be getting for a while.

Just as with Houston fishmonger Louisiana Foods, Naismith has found that there's currently no market for his fish. At least not the kind of market that's sustainable right now. It's the same problem we covered recently in our cover story, "The Fish That Got Away." And in Naismith's case, no amount of hard work on his part and no amount of desire on the restaurant industry's part could push past the biggest barrier: the fishermen.

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Photo by Ric McArthur
Gulf fishing and shrimping boats tied up along the Texas coast.
"The main thing I cannot find is a fisherman that will follow through in the same sense that a lot of the Japanese will," says Naismith, who's traveled to Japan and researched the ike jime technique himself. "We need fishermen who really care about the fish and want to work directly with the chefs on a one-on-one basis."

Mark Marhefka in Charleston embodies that type of fisherman for Naismith. Marhefka is a man who works within his daily catch limits to bring up quality Atlantic fish, prepare them correctly and calling chefs on his satellite phone on the way back to the shore.

"They've got them sold by the time they get to the dock," says Naismith. "I think that would work spot on in Texas." If only he could find that same elusive fisherman model here, he says. "But there's an inherent problem in that there's a history of doing things the same way."

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Photo by Marty Engelking
Deep sea fishing in the Gulf can result in beautiful catches like this red snapper.
Naismith initially approached the issue of Gulf sushi after trips to Vancouver, China and Japan turned him on to raw fish 10 years ago. Back in Corpus, he says, "I went around and talked to chefs and found zero that were getting any fish out of the Gulf." So the lifelong fisherman went to work himself, researching the killing and storage techniques that made sashimi-grade fish possible, battling misconceptions about Gulf fish along the way.

"When I started doing this, I had people telling me, 'You will die if you eat red snapper out of the Gulf,'" he chuckles. "'Those parasites will eat you up!'"

"The really bad parasites in fish are in the ones that are in mammal food chains," Naismith counters. "We have some marine mammals but we don't have bears out there eating our fish." And the water is clean, too. He's tested his fish relentlessly.

"There's all kinds of pollution" he says, especially in the bays and in places like the Houston Ship Channel. "But when you actually test the fish, they show up pretty clean. Where we're commercially fishing is the prettiest cobalt blue water you'd ever see," he effuses. "It rivals anything you'd see off Hawaii, but most people don't go out that far."

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carrie
carrie

i think there is definitely a market for this hear in houston--i would order it for sure.  when i eat at soma i go straight for the left side of the menu specials, and if it was full of gulf stuff, i would be glad to order them.

Gaines
Gaines

I would eat *MORE* sushi if I knew it was from the Gulf and we were supporting local fisherman. 

Ben
Ben

If you've ever eaten crudo, ceviche, raw fish @ Stella Sola, Reef, Beavers, Haven, Xuco Xichana, Rainbow Lodge, Benjy's...then it came from the gulf. Ike jime is about preserving texture...not making it safe to eat. Please feel free to enjoy fresh gulf fish...especially raw. Little lime juice, olive oil & salt...done.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Agreed. Ike jime is about the fish's texture, not its safety. I think the point Naismith was trying to make is that there is a misconception that Gulf fish isn't safe to eat raw -- which it completely is, whether it's been ike jime'd or not.

ETA: Just to clarify, ike jime is a technique of processing fish that sushi chefs -- especially Japanese ones -- look for when they're buying fish. I'm certainly not arguing that all Gulf fish, or that all of any fish, needs to be ike jime'd. I realize it may have come across that way in the initial feature, and I apologize for that.

Instead, I think that it would help the Gulf fishing industry break into the sushi market (and I'm not alone in thinking that). And I don't think that's a bad thing. :)

Ben
Ben

Point taken.

Sherie
Sherie

We used to live on N. Padre Island (outside of Corpus) and the offshore fishing was fantastic!  We would routinely go two hours out and come back with out limit of red snapper, amberjack, ling and grouper.  The water, believe it or not, was incredibly blue.......people have lived there their whole lives and not experienced that.  Everytime I'd tell people how beautiful the water was, they say, "Not in Corpus."   Maybe not in the Corpus THEY knew, but a few short miles offshore and the fishing is top notch. 

I miss having a freezer full of delicious fish, but nothing was better than eating it the same day.

trisch
trisch

I agree. Once you get out past the blue line, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are some of the most beautiful deep cobalt blue you'll ever see.  I've done my fair share of diving and u/w photography as well as fishing out there.  A few years ago, I was diving the Flower Gardens with some folks from NOAA and looking through some photos from the various US national marine reserves.  The interesting thing is the central Gulf of Mexico photos were all distinguishable by the intense dark blue of the water.  It's a shame most people never get to see that and can only associate Texas Gulf waters with the brown river-influenced stuff we have closer to shore. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

What prices are restaurants willing to pay for this?  On a $ level. 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

In general, they're going to pay less than what they currently do for sushi flown in from other parts of the world. Not that other sushi is bad or that Gulf sushi should replace it. Far from that. I think we're all suggesting the same thing: that Gulf-caught sushi be given a place at the table, too.

Tim
Tim

I dream of a day when I can eat Gulf sushi... 

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