The World’s Most Expensive Tuna
If the prices of premium tuna for sushi and sashimi are an indication of consumer behavior, Japan’s economy seems to be doing quite well.
Tokyo’s Tsukiji central fish market rang in the new year with a happy new record: a bluefin tuna fetching a highest-ever price at the year’s first auction Wednesday.
A team of a popular Hong Kong restaurant chain and a stylish Tokyo sushi bar successfully bid 32.49 million yen, or nearly $400,000, for the 342-kilogram tuna caught off Toi in Hokkaido, a fishing town known for its catch of rich and fragrant bluefin. The price exceeded the previous record of 20.2 million set in 2001, and overshadowed the 9.63 million yen that the same pair paid for their fish a year earlier.
A spokesman for the Tsukiji market said tuna prices tend to get inflated in the first auction of the new year, in a custom known as a “celebratory market,” or shugi soba. In fact, the average price of bluefin tuna has been declining since 2006, he said, as demand weakens for gourmet fish, reflecting belt-tightening by Japanese households and businesses amid the country’s prolonged economic malaise. Tougher global restrictions on fishing of bluefin, considered by many as an endangered species due to overfishing, haven’t kept their prices from sagging.
“What a relief I was able to buy this fish,” Ricky Cheng, the owner of the Itamae Sushi chain, part of Hong Kong’s Taste of Japan Group, told reporters at Tsukiji. “We wanted to get it for good luck, even if we lose money.” Mr. Cheng’s company had teamed up with Kyubey, a renowned, Michelin-starred Ginza sushi bar that counts Sony Chief Executive Howard Stringer and Steven Spielberg as clients.
Mr. Cheng may be risking more than lost profit. Since the company’s highly-publicized win at Tsukiji last year, the Hong Kong branch of WWF has pressured the company to stop serving bluefin tuna at its restaurants. The environmental group also demanded Taste of Japan earlier this week not to participate in the “symbolic bidding in Tsukiji market in Tokyo.” A company spokeswoman said it planned to issue a press release to address the latest auction result later Wednesday.