For a variety of reasons –primarily overfishing and hoarding — I’ve been predicting for the past couple years that within the next decade we will see a bluefin tuna sold in Japan for $500,000, even $1 million.
Looks like we won’t have to wait that long.
At the annual first-day of the new year sale at Tokyo’s monstrous Tsukiji Central Fish Market a new record for a single fish was set: $396,000 for a 754 pound bluefin.
The fish, caught off the Japanese island of Hokkaido has no special ju-ju. It won’t taste any better than any of the other 538 bluefin sold at the market on the same day, at one of its two daily morning auctions. The record price equates to $527 per pound of meat.
It is special only because it was the first sold in 2011. The first day the market is open in the New Year is known as the “celebratory market.” In a nation that lives for seafood – the Japanese consume 80 percent of the Atlantic and Bluefins caught each year – being first clearly counts for a lot.
A pair of restaurant owners from Tokyo and Hong Kong bought this big fish. They are trusting that their biggest clients and strangers alike will wait in long lines outside their stylish Tokyo sushi bar or one of several Hong Kong-based chain sushi restaurants for a taste of the first-of-the-year-fish and be willing to be upwards of $100 per bite for the chance.
“What a relief I was able to buy this fish,” Ricky Cheng, owner of the Itamae Sushi chain, part of Hong Kong’s Taste of Japan group, told reporters gathered at the market for the spectacle. “We wanted to get it for good luck, even if we lose money.” His partner in the purchase owns a high-end sushi bar in Tokyo’s high-end Ginza district.
Ironically the World Wildlife Fund has been pressuring the chain to stop serving all bluefin at Cheng’s restaurants and demanding it not participate in the “symbolic bidding.”
Several coordinated governmental efforts were made in 2010 to slow the catch of bluefin. They largely failed, leaving the big, speedy fish closer to extinction, in large part due to Japan’s voracious appetite and keen lobbying skills.
Watching all this activity from the sidelines is the Mitsubishi Company, which controls an estimated forty percent of all sales of bluefin in Japan. Some is put on the market, some it goes straight into giant freezers. The company is counting on the day when bluefin will no longer be available in the wild and the only stocks remaining will be frozen.
That’s when I predict we’ll see the $1 million bluefin.