Bluefin tuna are the crown jewels of the open ocean: big and blue, blindingly fast and astonishingly expensive. The fish are drastically endangered yet hotly coveted for sushi, particularly in Japan.
So it’s no wonder that last week one particularly fine specimen sold for a price some would consider ghastly: 74.2 million yen, or approximately $632,000.
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The fish, which weighs 467 pounds, now belongs to Kiyoshi Kimura, the owner of sushi chain Kiyomura Co., The Guardian reports. Kimura’s outlandish bid secured his six-year streak of winning the first bluefin tuna auction of the year.
The auctions have become a status symbol for restaurant owners and a huge threat to dwindling global supplies of endangered fish like the bluefin.
In 2013, Kimura made the highest-ever bid at the Tsukiji auction: a whopping $1.8 million for a 489-pound bluefin tuna. If these bids seem too high to be profitable, you’re absolutely right.
To turn his usual per-dish profit, Kimura’s newest bid would need to be sold at 25 times its normal price. But the higher the bid, the higher the publicity. And for these hip Tokyo restaurants, that’s sometimes all that matters.
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Yet this publicity does no good for the tuna itself. Though Kimura’s tuna is obviously already dead, the hullabaloo surrounding the auction only fans the public’s desire to continue eating the extremely overfished bluefin tuna.
Worldwide populations of the fish have dropped by 97 percent from its expected levels. In other words, only 2.6 percent of Pacific bluefin tuna remain from “unfished” populations.
That’s a terrifying number. And Japan consumes more bluefin tuna than any other nation, to the tune of 80 percent of bluefin tuna caught anywhere. With current fishing rates, worldwide populations of bluefin tuna just aren’t sustainable.
If the population of bluefins continues to drop, researchers say it would no longer make financial sense to hunt down the giant fish. According to an article in the Associated Press, “Pacific bluefin would be commercially extinct.”
While saving the bluefin tuna will require countries to cut down fishing rates and actively commit to the tuna’s survival, if you ever encounter Pacific bluefin tuna on a menu, don’t eat it.
Learn about how you can help vulnerable marine animals by signing up with Oceana.