First 2020 bluefin sold at Toyosu Market snags second-highest price ever – but what is it really worth?

Published on
January 9, 2020

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species shows Pacific bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) as “vulnerable”— one step better than “endangered.” But rarity isn’t the reason one bluefin sold for JPY 193.2 million (USD 1.8 million, EUR 1.6 million) at the first sale of the new year at Tokyo’s Toyosu Market on 5 January.

The price – the second-highest on record after last year’s JPY 333.6 million (USD 3.1 million, EUR 2.7 million) sale – is all about generating buzz in the media to gain name recognition, a public relations stunt that is common in Japan. The winning bidder, Kiyoshi Kimura, president of Tokyo-based restaurant chain Sushi Zanmai, has used the event to get his company’s name in the news worldwide for several years.

The tuna, caught near Oma, in Aomori Prefecture, weighed 276 kilograms, and sold at JPY 700,000 (USD 6,418 or EUR 5,771) per kilogram. Following the purchase, the fish starred in a tuna-cutting show at Sushizanmai’s headquarters in Tsukiji, Tokyo, and o-toro (fatty), chu-toro (medium fatty), and akami (lean) sections were set out for display.

The tradition of bidding up the best tuna at the opening sale was carried to Toyosu from the Tsukiji market, now demolished. But there are two other wholesale markets in Tokyo with tuna auctions, at Ota and Adachi. The high prices on bluefin there on the same day were JPY 3,186 (USD 29.39, EUR 26.38) and 3,294 (USD 30.38, EUR 27.27) per kilogram, respectively. This may give a more realistic view of the actual price of bluefin tuna in Japan. In fact, tuna prices are coming down as higher catch quotas of Atlantic bluefin reflect an increasing stock, and more closed-cycle tuna farming projects are ramping up to commercial volumes. At the Adachi market on 7 January last year, the highest price paid for bluefin tuna was JPY 3,402 (USD 31.20, EUR 28.05), and on 5 January, 2018 it was JPY 3,456 (USD 31.70, EUR 28.49).

But, of course, this may be comparing apples to oranges, as tuna from different origins fetch different prices. This year’s “lottery ticket tuna” was caught off Oma in Aomori Prefecture, in the Tsugaru Straight between Honshu and Hokkaido. The area is famous for the fattiest tuna. As of 8 January, the high price of bluefin from Aomori at the Toyosu market was JPY 19,980 (USD 183.17, EUR 164.71) per kilogram, a rise from a high price on 10 January, 2019, of JPY 17,280 (USD 158.41, EUR 142.45), and of JPY 16,200 (USD 148.51, EUR 133.54) on 9 January, 2018, at Tsukiji.

Photo courtesy of Alexius Sutandio/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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