A North Pacific Bluefin tuna fetched 56.49m yen/$736,000 at Tsukiji fish market’s first tuna auction of the year. Bluefin stocks in the Atlantic and South Pacific are depleted to fractions of their original size thanks to overfishing driven primarily by the Japanese sushi market. Many of us, who may love sushi as much as the next guy but want to avoid unsustainable choices, can’t understand this seemingly insatiable and careless appetite for a threatened species. Don’t they know that this will only make matters worse for bluefin?
There are several reasons why this is happening:
First, this is a publicity stunt. Every now and then when an extraordinarily large and fatty N. Pacific bluefin is caught, it is rushed to Tokyo on ice to maximize freshness and value (never frozen like Atlantic or Southern bluefin). When it shows up at the world famous/infamous (your choice) Tsukiji fish market, the owner of one of the major sushi chains or an upscale restaurant will pay a ridiculously high price as a marketing campaign (note: we in the West are not their audience).
It is also no surprise that it happened now. New years celebrations are the time to impress your friends and neighbors in Japan by serving the most exquisite sushi you can’t afford, so sushi prices in Japan tend to spike this time of year. In Japan, serving Toro, or bluefin belly fat, is the ultimate gesture of graciousness towards your guests.
Also, the North Pacific bluefin is the most prized of all the species/stocks by the Japanese. This is their bluefin caught right off their coast so it will always fetch a higher price.
The last time one of these amazing creatures showed up on the auction block a Hong Kong-based sushi chain was involved in the winning bid. One more way the rise of China is freaking out the Japanese: this time they are taking away their most prized food! Throw in the desire to create some sense of optimism in post-tsunami Japan and naturally the “Sushi Audacity Cup” had to be brought home to Tokyo. After all, they needed to reclaim their national culinary treasure.
If you are still scratching your head, you’re not alone. But, all joking aside, before we criticize the Japanese, think back to our own experience with cod, orange roughy and now Chilean sea bass. The answer is not to disparage someone else’s culture but to try to understand, respect and work with all the people of the world to make sure there are plenty of fish in the sea for all of us to enjoy in different ways.