Ricardo Fuentes relishes status as Japan’s go-to source for premium bluefin tuna

Grupo Ricardo Fuentes Commercial Director Isaac Hermo.

You can trust Japanese buyers to know where to find the best bluefin tuna, according to Isaac Hermo, the commercial director for Grupo Ricardo Fuentes.

Based in the Mediterranean port city of Cartagena, Spain, the company was founded in 1984 as a local fish purveyor. Soon after it was founded, Japanese buyers began inquiring about the company’s bluefin tuna catch.

“They said, ‘You can salt your loins but we want to buy your bellies,’” Hermo told SeafoodSource at the 2023 Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona, Spain, in April. “The owner, Ricardo Fuentes Herrero, thought they were onto something and began investigating the market.”

Today, Ricardo Fuentes boasts it is the world’s largest exporter of Atlantic bluefin, selling 18,000 metric tons annually to clients all over the world. But 85 percent of its business still goes to Japan.

“The biggest seafood companies in Japan – Mitsubishi, Nissui, Maruha Nichiro – they are all our biggest customers,” Hermo said. “Japan is the market-setter for bluefin. Japan sets the price, the quality standard – when someone from, I don’t know, England comes in looking for bluefin, they want the Japanese quality. But now, in every big city in this world, the top restaurants want bluefin. Even in Texas, the land of steak, you can find bluefin tuna there.”

Japanese buyers demand quality, and over the decades, Ricardo Fuentes has learned the processes and methods for delivering that quality, Hermo said. The company operates three bluefin tuna farms, where it fattens wild-caught bluefin,  and four Almadraba-style tuna-capture systems across the Mediterranean.

“We have honed all our processes over the years to ensure the fish are handled delicately in every interaction. We know now how to catch the tuna, feed it, maintain it and harvest it at optimal levels. And now we can harvest on-demand one by one to ensure the freshest fish for our clients,” Hermo said. “Mastering all these processes – many originally created in Japan – is why we are now the biggest bluefin supplier in Europe and why we are still working with the same companies for more than 40 years.”

Ricardo Fuentes now has EUR 350 million to EUR 400 million (USD 383 million to EUR 439) in sales annually, with much of its fresh catch staying in Europe but most of its frozen products heading to Japan.

Most of the tuna captured by Ricardo Fuentes is caught over a one-month period beginning in May, then fattened over the summer and harvested in October. Hermo said he fields all sorts of requests from customers, ranging from the geographic to the anatomical.

“These days, everything gets eaten. The eyes. The skin. Restaurants use it all, and not just Japanese restaurants, but now all different kinds of restaurants. They’re looking for ways to be different,” Hermo said.

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Photo by Cliff White/SeafoodSource

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