Last week, a bluefin tuna fetched a record 32.49m yen (£254,000) today at the first auction of the year at Tsukiji market in Tokyo. The 342kg tuna easily beat the previous record, set exactly 10 years ago when a 202kg fish fetched 20.2m yen. The tuna, one of more than 500 shipped in from around the world, will be divided between two sushi restaurants which joined forces at the auction.
The fish, caught from the coasts of norther Japan, was bought from a partnership of a Hong Kong and Tokyo restaurant. While caught locally, this extraordinary price reveals the surging demand in China and HK for Bluefin Tuna that could lead to commercial extinction. In the Atlantic, recent efforts to reduce catch limits by International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) have failed to adhere to sceintific advice. In November, ICCAT cut the bluefin catch quota in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic from 13,500 to 12,900 tonnes, a woefully small cut that presently increases the risk of the stock crashing.
According the Guardian Bluefin's popularity in Japan shows no sign of abating. Top-grade otoro – the fattiest cut of tuna – can sell for as much as 2,000 yen (£16) a piece at exclusive Tokyo restaurants. The flesh on today's record-breaking tuna will go for 95,000 yen (£740) a kilo.
Overcapitalised fleets and farms continue to chase dwindling stocks while overfishing, illegal fishing and high market prices drive the species toward commercial extinction. International political will to save the species is low (as demonstrated in the 2010 CITES meeting) as nations for and against conservation clash. The game continues, and hopefully this iconic ocean species will not become a victim of unsustainable fishery practices and market forces.
A sobre note to start the new year on.. But one, we hope, that will be turned around.