What is a Saury?

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.

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

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.

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.

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