TOKYO – A 612-pound (278-kilogram) bluefin tuna sold for a record 333.6 million yen ($ 3 million) at the first bid of 2019, after Tokyo's famed Tsukiji market was moved to a new site on the city's waterfront.
The winning bid for the prized but threatened species at the predawn auction Saturday 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
Japanese broadcaster NHK showed a beaming Kimura saying that he was surprised by the tuna this year. But he added, "The quality of the tuna I bought is the best."
The auction prices are the usual for bluefin tuna. The fish usually sells for up to $ 40 a pound ($ 88 a kilogram), but the price rises to over $ 200 a pound near the year's end, specifically for prized catches from Oma in northern Japan.
Last year's auction was the last at Tsukiji before the market shifted to a new facility on a former gas plant site on Tokyo Bay. The move was delayed.
Japanese are the largest consumers of the torpedo-shaped bluefin tuna, and surging consumption here and overseas have been overfishing of the species. Experts warn it faces possible extinction, with stocks of Pacific bluefin depleted by 96 percent from their pre-industrial levels.
The Pew Charitable Trusts at Global Tuna Conservation for Associate Manager, said "The celebration around the annual Pacific bluefin auction hides how deeply in this problem really is," said Jamie Gibbon.
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 historical levels by 2034.
Decades-old Tsukiji was one of Japan's most popular tourist destinations as well as the world's biggest fish market. The new market opened in October. Some businesses stayed in Tsukiji, but almost all of the 500-plus wholesalers and other businesses shifted to Toyosu.
Tsukiji is due to be redeveloped, though for now it's going turned into a parking lot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.