Bluefin tuna gets record price ($396,000) at Japanese auction

By Morgan Erickson-Davis, mongabay.com
January 06, 2011

A vicious cycle: as species becomes rarer, price will continue to rise

On Tuesday, a 752-pound Pacific bluefin tuna was sold at Japanese auction for the highest price ever received for raw seafood - $396,000. The price tops the previous record by more than $100,000 and comes at a time when tuna populations around the world are experiencing precipitous declines.

Measuring up to nine feet in length and topping out at over 1,000 pounds, the Pacific bluefin tuna is one of the largest fish in the Pacific Ocean. Unlike almost all other fish, tuna are warm-blooded, an adaptation which allows them to inhabit both warm and cold regions as well as giving them extra bursts of speed when pursuing prey or escaping predators.

Today, Pacific bluefin are very rare. From 1976 to 2006, stocks fell 90% due to increased fishing pressure, prompting the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to add them to their list of threatened species.

Yet demand for the fish remains high, especially in Japan where one small slice of the record fish is expected to fetch $40 from consumers.

A bluefin tuna being used for research. Photo courtesy of NOAA
The tuna sold on Wednesday was one of 500 bluefin brought in for the first auction of the year. It was caught in waters off the northern island of Hokkaido and purchased jointly by the proprietors of two sashimi restaurants, one in Tokyo and the other in Hong Kong.

"The custom of eating raw fish is spreading throughout the world, so that it's no longer an era where Japan is consuming all of the limited supply of tuna," an auction manager told The Guardian.

Still, Japan is by far the largest consumer of tuna. Around 80% of global tuna catches are exported to the island nation, mostly for use as sashimi.

"They go to the supermarket and see tuna lined up alongside lots of other varieties of seafood, all similarly priced, and are fooled into thinking everything is available in abundance," Wakao Hanaoka, ocean campaigner for Greenpeace Japan, told The Guardian. "But it is not possible for the Japanese to continue to eat tuna at this rate."

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By Morgan Erickson-Davis, mongabay.com (January 06, 2011).

Bluefin tuna gets record price ($396,000) at Japanese auction.