A first-rate bluefin tuna sold for ¥4.51 million on Monday in the first auction of the year at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market.
Weighing 180.4 kg, the fish was caught off the coast of Aomori, a market official said.
Although an eye-watering amount, the winning bid marked the second consecutive decline at the annual sale after a record ¥155.4 million was paid in 2013 — driven by a bidding war led by a sushi restaurant chain — for a slightly larger fish of similar quality.
The purchaser on Monday was Kiyoshi Kimura, president of the Tokyo-based firm behind the popular Sushi Zanmai restaurant chain. Kimura told reporters he was “surprised to win at such a low price.”
“But it’s the best quality,” he added. “I’m satisfied with buying the best one — it has a good shape and great fat.”
The low price 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.
Bluefin is usually the most expensive fish sold at Tsukiji, which is the world’s biggest fish and wholesale seafood market.
A piece of “otoro,” or the fish’s fatty underbelly, can cost several thousand yen at high-end Tokyo restaurants.
But the growing popularity of sushi worldwide has stoked demand. Japan, the world’s largest consumer of bluefin tuna, faces growing calls to reduce its catches of the fish, which environmentalists say is on the road 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 is placing “unsustainable pressure” on it.