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What is a Saury?

Debra Durkee
Debra Durkee

Saury are long, slender, knife-like fish that are found in the tropical and temperate oceans of the world. They belong to the family Scomberesocidae, and are characterized not only by their thin bodies but by their tendency to stay near the surface of the water. They have the ability to not only jump out of the water, but to skim along the top of it for short distances. These small ocean fish are a common component of Japanese and Korean cuisine.

Large schools of the Atlantic saury can be found in ocean waters between the eastern United States and the west coast of Europe, from Scandinavia south to the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Guinea. Members in this branch of the saury family have elongated snouts and a row of sharp, tiny teeth. When viewed from above or below, these fish are camouflaged by their silver belly and green backs. They feed off smaller fish at the water's surface, and are lured into fishermen's nets by the simple use of bright lights to attract the large schools.

Pacific saury is commonly featured in sushi dishes.
Pacific saury is commonly featured in sushi dishes.

The Gracile saury, also known as the Gracile lizardfish, slender saury, and the slender grinner, is native to the tropical waters of the Central Pacific and the Indo-West, and can be found off the northern coast of Australia. This saury typically gets no bigger than about 11 inches (28 cm) long. It gets its descriptive names from its large mouth and the sharp teeth that are exposed even when the mouth is shut. Pale in color with red and brown mottling along the top of the body and white along the bottom, the Gracile saury also has distinctive black blotches at the tail.

Also known as the autumn knife fish because they are traditionally fished and caught in the fall months, the Pacific saury is the type most commonly used in sushi. Native to the Pacific Ocean and found in the waters from Japan and China all the way to the west coast of the United States, thousands of tons of these long, knife-like fish are caught every season. Served grilled or raw, Pacific saury was once considered a poor man's fish because of its shiny scales and overpowering fishy smell and taste. Members of the upper and samurai class would avoid eating them, but they have remained popular partially because their abundance and rapid reproduction rate make them an economical choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a saury and where can it be found?

A saury is a small, elongated fish belonging to the family Scomberesocidae. These fish are known for their long, slender bodies and distinctive beak-like snouts. They inhabit the surface waters of the open ocean, often found in temperate and subtropical regions worldwide. Saury populations are particularly abundant in the North Pacific, where they play a significant role in marine food webs.

How does a saury's physical appearance adapt it to its environment?

The saury's streamlined body shape and elongated jaw are adaptations for its pelagic lifestyle. Its slender form reduces drag, allowing for swift movement through the water, which is essential for both evading predators and pursuing prey. The saury's long, toothed snout is well-suited for catching smaller fish and crustaceans, which constitute its primary diet.

What does the saury typically eat?

Sauries are carnivorous, feeding mainly on zooplankton, small fish, and crustaceans. Their diet consists of copepods, amphipods, and other small marine organisms. By consuming a variety of prey, sauries maintain a balanced diet that supports their high-energy lifestyle. This diet also positions them as important foragers within their marine ecosystems, linking lower and higher trophic levels.

Are sauries important to commercial fisheries?

Yes, sauries are significant to commercial fisheries, especially in East Asia. They are harvested for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some cultures. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, saury fisheries have fluctuated over the years, with catches sometimes exceeding 300,000 tonnes annually. Sustainable management is crucial to prevent overfishing and ensure the long-term viability of saury populations.

What are the main threats to saury populations?

Saury populations face several threats, including overfishing and environmental changes. Overfishing can deplete their numbers faster than they can reproduce, disrupting the balance of marine ecosystems. Additionally, climate change and associated shifts in ocean temperatures and currents can alter the distribution and abundance of the planktonic organisms that sauries feed on, impacting their survival and reproduction.

How do sauries reproduce, and what is their lifespan?

Sauries are known to reproduce by laying eggs, which are then fertilized externally. They engage in spawning events where large numbers of eggs are released into the water, increasing the chances of successful fertilization. The average lifespan of a saury is relatively short, typically around 2 years, which necessitates high reproductive rates to maintain population stability.

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    • Pacific saury is commonly featured in sushi dishes.
      By: T.Tulik
      Pacific saury is commonly featured in sushi dishes.