The first tuna auction of 2019 at Tokyo’s new fish market was a resounding success with one restaurant chain paying more than $3 million for a giant bluefin tuna. The city’s renowned Tsukiji fish market, which has been moved to the Toyosu neighborhood in anticipation of the 2020 Olympics, is famous for its early morning tuna auctions.
Last Saturday, potential buyers viewed endless rows of giant tuna before placing their bids. The new space, a $5.3 billion enclosed, climate-controlled warehouse is vastly different than the former Tsukiji fish market, which after 83 years was in deteriorating conditions.
A record-breaking 3.1 million U.S. dollars was paid for a giant #tuna during the New Year's auction at Tokyo's new fish market. The 278kg #bluefin tuna was brought into a sushi restaurant chain, Sushi-Zanmai, in Tokyo on January 5. pic.twitter.com/0iIn4KFr2N— ShanghaiEye (@ShanghaiEye) January 6, 2019
The high bidder, Kiyoshi Kimura, known as “King of Tuna,” manages the Sushi Zanmai restaurant chain. He paid a record 333.6 million yen for the 612-pound bluefin. Kimura’s purchase broke his own record of 155.4 million yen, or about $1.76 million, that he shelled out for a 488-pound bluefin, six years ago. “It’s a good tuna, but I think I paid too much,” Kimura jokingly told reporters after the auction.
Last year, Kimura lost out to Hiroshi Onodera, owner of the upscale Sushi Ginza Onodera chain, who paid $323,195 for an 893-pound Pacific bluefin tuna. Kimura was determined this year not to be outbid again.
Kiyomura Co's President Kiyoshi Kimura, who runs a chain of sushi restaurants Sushi Zanmai, poses as he prepares to cut a 278kg bluefin tuna, priced with a 333,600,000 yen bid at the Toyosu fish market's first tuna auction this year, at his sushi restaurant pic.twitter.com/9WJWUKOThw— Economic Divide (@ED_Program) January 5, 2019
After Kimura purchased the tuna, it was delivered to one of his restaurants, where the manager and his staff posed for a picture with their prized fish. The bluefin tuna, an endangered species, was caught off the northern coast of Japan. The species, the largest in the tuna family, have a life expectancy of 40 years but have recently become endangered as a result of overfishing.
Given its high value, fishermen have been increasingly aggressive in their efforts to catch the bluefin tuna, which has decimated the population. On average, 80 percent of the global catch of bluefin tuna is used in Japan for sushi and sashimi. The country has repeatedly declined to participate in conservation efforts. Though the country has tried to farm bluefin tuna, it is difficult to raise the fish since they take time to fully mature.
Ironically, until the 20th century, tuna was considered a poor man’s fish, which was usually marinated in soy sauce to get rid of the taste or used as cat food.