A 278kg bluefin tuna yesterday sold for a record ￥333.6 million (US$3.07 million) at the new year’s first auction, after Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji market was closed and auctions moved to Toyosu Market a new site on the city’s waterfront.
The winning bid for the prized, but threatened species at the predawn auction was more than double the 2013 annual New Year auction.
It was paid by Kiyomura Corp, whose owner Kiyoshi Kimura runs the Sushi-Zanmai chain. Kimura has often won the annual auction in the past.
Japan Broadcasting Corp (NHK) showed a beaming Kimura saying that he was surprised by the high price of tuna this year.
However, he added: “The quality of the tuna I bought is the best.”
The auction prices are far higher than usual for bluefin tuna. The fish usually sells for up to US$88 per kilogram, but the price rises to more than US$440 per kilogram near the year’s end, especially for prized catches from Oma in northern Japan.
Last year’s auction was the last at Tsukiji before the market shifted to the new facility on a former gas plant site on Tokyo Bay. The move was delayed repeatedly due to concerns over soil contamination.
Japanese are the biggest consumers of the torpedo-shaped bluefin tuna, and surging consumption there and abroad has led to overfishing of the species.
Experts have said that it faces possible extinction, with stocks of Pacific bluefin depleted by 96 percent from their pre-industrial levels.
“The celebration surrounding the annual Pacific bluefin auction hides how deeply in trouble this species really is,” said Jamie Gibbon, associate manager for global tuna conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts.
There are signs of progress toward protecting the bluefin, and Japan and other governments have backed plans to rebuild Pacific bluefin stocks, with a target of 20 percent of historic levels by 2034.
Decades-old Tsukiji was one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations, as well as the world’s biggest fish market. Toyosu Market opened in October. A few businesses stayed in Tsukiji, but nearly all of the more than 500 wholesalers and other businesses shifted to Toyosu.
Tsukiji is due to be redeveloped, although for now it is being turned into a parking lot for next year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics.
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