Japanese sushi chain Kiyomura paid a record 155.4 million yen (US$1.76 million) for a single bluefin tuna at an auction in Tokyo on Friday, outbidding a Hong Kong-based competitor in a sign of the fish’s ever-more-expensive future.
The buyer, Kiyoshi Kimura, acknowledged that the price was “a bit high.” It was nearly three times the previous record at Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market, where most of Japan’s sushi is sourced. Friday’s tuna auction was the first of the year, attracting heavy publicity, so the sale prices are inflated.
Nevertheless, the auction reflects a basic supply-and-demand problem: bluefin tuna populations are dwindling as Japan’s appetite for otoro sushi, taken from the tuna’s belly, continues to grow. Japanese consume 80% of the world’s bluefin tuna, though demand from high-end restaurants in the United States and Europe is also increasing. Environmentalists have long argued for stricter regulation of bluefin tuna fishing.
A scene from last year’s documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about an obsessive Tokyo chef, explains the tuna auctions at Tsukiji Market:
Yesterday’s record tuna weighs 222 kilograms (489 pounds), and Kimura said the fish would yield 10,000 pieces of sushi. That’s $3,600 per pound or $176 per sushi piece, though Kimura said the fish would retail at his restaurant chain’s regular prices, which are much lower.
Kimura’s Kiyomura ultimately outbid a rival sushi chain, Itamae Sushi Japan, which is owned by Taste of Japan Group, based in Hong Kong. Itamae said its highest bid for the tuna was 151 million yen. The Tokyo-Hong Kong competition was viewed in the context of heightened tension between China and Japan over control of islands near Taiwan.
“There are some political difficulties, but Japanese customers and Chinese customers come to our restaurant, and what we want is for everyone to enjoy our sushi,” Kimura told reporters.
Here’s video of Kiyomura carting his record tuna back to one of his restaurants after the auction: