Bluefin tuna nets $49,000 in Tokyo auction

Mr Kiyoshi Kimura (second from right), president of the firm behind Sushi-Zanmai restaurant chain, cut the 180.4kg bluefin tuna at his main restaurant near Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market yesterday. Increasing pressure has been put on Japan to reduce con
Mr Kiyoshi Kimura (second from right), president of the firm behind Sushi-Zanmai restaurant chain, cut the 180.4kg bluefin tuna at his main restaurant near Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market yesterday. Increasing pressure has been put on Japan to reduce consumption of the threatened species.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO (AFP) - A giant bluefin tuna has been sold for 4.51 million yen (S$49,000) in the first auction of the year at a Tokyo fish market, as Japan faces growing pressure to cut back on consumption of the threatened fish.

The 180.4kg tuna, caught off Japan's northern region of Aomori, fetched the winning bid yesterday, said an official at the Tsukiji fish market.

The bid marked the second decline at the annual new year sales, after a record 155.4 million yen was paid in 2013 - driven by a bidding war led by a Hong Kong restaurant chain - for a slightly larger fish of similar quality.

Yesterday's winner, Mr Kiyoshi Kimura, president of the firm behind the popular Sushi-Zanmai restaurant chain, said he was "surprised to win the bid at such a low price".

"But it's the best quality," he told local media. "I'm satisfied with buying the best one - it has a good shape and great fat."

The price decline was due to a "lack of rival bids" and a higher number of bluefins in the waters off Japan's northern coast, a prime spot for tuna fishing, reports said.

Bluefin is usually the most expensive fish available at Tsukiji, the biggest fish and wholesale seafood market in the world. A piece of "otoro", or the fish's fatty underbelly, can cost up to several thousand yen at high-end Tokyo restaurants.

The growing popularity of Japanese sushi worldwide has also stoked demand.

The auction came as Japan, the world's largest bluefin tuna consumer, faces growing calls for a trade ban on the fish, which environmentalists warn is on its way to extinction. In November, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature updated its "red list" of threatened species, warning that surging global demand for the fish was placing "unsustainable pressure" on the species.