Half tuna, half mackerel

Together with the bonito, the bullet tuna is one of the most common “small tuna” in the Mediterranean. It can grow up to 18 inches (45 cm) in length, like the mackerel, but its body structure is vastly different from it and clearly indicates it is a type of tuna. The fishing season for bullet tuna is in summer and autumn.


English: bullet tuna, bullet mackerel, frigate mackerel, frigate tuna

Italian: tombarello, strumbo, strombo, scurmo, bisu, mazzita, sangulu

Croatian: štrup, trupac, rumbac, tunjčić

Slovene: trupec, tunjček

French: bonitou, auxide

Spanish: melva, visol, melvara, bis, bonito del norte, macalea

Portuguese: gayado, judea, serra, cachorra, bonito

Greek: kopáni

Turkish: gobene

German: Fregattenmakrele, unechter Bonito

Pattern of black stripes

Bullet tuna's back is dark blue, the sides are lighter in tone, and its abdomen is silvery. The front part of its body is covered in small scales all the way to the pectoral fins, where the skin becomes silky smooth. On the upper side of its body, from the dorsal fin to the tail, there is a pattern of non-linear black stripes, which are its distinctive feature.

Less than exemplary culinary resume

In the Mediterranean, bullet tuna is a relatively common but commercially rather uninteresting species, whose culinary resume is less than exemplary. A fisherman from Bogomolje on the Croatian island Hvar accurately described its value by saying that the bullet tuna’s flesh is as dry as pepper – rather than selling what he catches at the fish market he cuts them up into pieces and uses them as bait in fishing traps. More resourceful cooks and housewives offset the dry flesh by braising it in a sauce, but tradition has always leaned on preserving cooked bullet tuna in oil.

Bycatch in the bluefin tuna gillnets

Bullet tuna fishing season is largely determined by their reproductive cycle – during their spawning period in the summer months, shoals come closer to the coast and within range of fishing boats with surrounding nets, as well as longline fishing boats. Along the Moroccan coast, bullet tuna are often caught in gillnets, which are set up with the purpose of catching bluefin tuna as they leave the Mediterranean and return to the Atlantic.

The most densely scattered tuna eggs acroos the oceans

Bullet tuna has a lifespan of up to 5 years and its diet is similar to that of other tuna – planktonic crustaceans, molluscs and small blue fish, such as sardines and anchovies. They commonly end up as prey for larger fish, mostly their relatives, such as bluefin tuna, albacore and little tunny.

Their great advantage over other types of tuna is their rapid growth and long, serial reproductive cycles – spawning takes place from May to September, which is significantly longer than that of, for example, the bonito. It is not surprising that, compared to all other types of tuna, their free floating eggs are the most densely scattered eggs across the seas of the world, ensuring their population is stable and, at least in this case, not declining.


Tuna recipes

Tuna spread with olive oil, lemon and chives – Albino, in the Blue book, page 90

Andalusian tuna stew – Barbate, in the Blue book, page 146

Hearty tuna stew from the Basque Country – Marmitako, in the Blue book, page 148