A 593 pound Pacific bluefin tuna sold for $735,000 (56.49 million yen) in Tokyo’s Tsukiji market today. This beats the previous record price hit last year by over $260,000. Why so expensive? Bluefin tuna, considered the best sashimi and sushi in the world, have been fished to near extinction with the population of the Pacific bluefin the most stable to date.
The massive fish, one of the largest in the Pacific, was purchased by Kiyoshi Kimura, operator of the 46-store Sushi-Zanmai restaurant chain. Kimura stated he shelled out so much for the fish because he wanted to give Japan some good news after a devastating tsunami and nuclear meltdown last year.
“Japan has been through a lot the last year due to the disaster,” he said. “It needs to stay strong. That’s what I tried to do and I ended up buying the most expensive one.” Kimura also said he wanted the bluefin sushi to stay in Japan.
A bluefin tuna being used for research. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
Although listed by the IUCN Red List as Least Concern, overfishing has become a problem for the Pacific bluefin. Last year researchers estimated that the current spawning biomass of Pacific bluefin was only 40-60 percent of its historic spawning biomass. The other two species of bluefin tuna, the Atlantic and southern, are currently listed as Critically Endangered. Given their scarcity, environmentalists and scientists have been pushing for tighter regulations and lower catches (in some cases a complete moratorium on catches) for bluefin tuna.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch lists warns consumers to avoid all bluefin tuna due to its scarcity and the methods used to catch the fish resulting in high levels of bycatch. There have also been health concerns raised about mercury and PCB levels in bluefin runa.
Japan is by far the largest consumer of tuna. Around 80 percent of global tuna catches are exported to the island nation, mostly for use as sashimi and sushi.
“You know, good things like this are appreciated in the whole world,” said Hirotaka Higurashi, a 22-year-old male customer at Sushi-Zanmai, when asked about overfishing by the AFP. “There is nothing we can do about it.”
Unlike most other fish, tuna are warm-blooded allowing them to inhabit both cold and warm waters. They are top predators in the ocean, impacting the food chain all the way down.
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