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The $1.76 Million Tuna: Great For Publicity, Bad For The Species

Sushi chain owner Kiyoshi Kimura poses with a bluefin tuna in front of his Sushi Zanmai restaurant in Tokyo on Saturday. He paid more than $1.7 million for the fish.
Shuji Kajiyama
/
AP
Sushi chain owner Kiyoshi Kimura poses with a bluefin tuna in front of his Sushi Zanmai restaurant in Tokyo on Saturday. He paid more than $1.7 million for the fish.

It's become an annual tradition: bidding up an outrageous price for a Pacific bluefin tuna during the first auction of the new year at Toyko's Tsukiji fish market.

And on Saturday, a bluefin tuna big enough to serve up about 10,000 pieces of sushi fetched a mind-boggling price: $1.76 million. That's about three times as much as last year's tuna and equates to about $3,600 per pound for the 489-pound fish.

The winning bidder, sushi chain owner Kiyoshi Kimura, is likely well aware that the market value of this fish is much lower. According to a BBC report, Kimura said he wanted to "encourage Japan" with his purchase.

So, what's the problem? As my colleague Eliza Barclay reported last year, this extravagant sale — and the publicity around it — may be just one more way to push demand for this fish, at a time when the species is vulnerable due to overfishing.

An international scientific committee is expected to release its latest assessment of Pacific bluefin tuna stocks any day now. And environmentalists say they're concerned about the imperiled state of this fish population, given that there are few regulatory measures in place to effectively manage its stocks.

"The No. 1 thing that needs to happen is catch limits" to regulate the number and the size of fish caught, says Amanda Nickson of the Pew Environment Group. "That's the critical thing."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.
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