For the last several years, we’ve been following the first-of-the-year Tsukiji Tuna Auction. In the past, this auction has served as a (often questionable) benchmark for the demand for Bluefin Tuna. At its peak, the price of Bluefin Tuna broke the scales at nearly $1,800,000. As the price continued to inflate, last year we even released an early warning to journalists covering the auction, cautioning them against drawing too many conclusions about the expectedly massive auction price. We we’re all caught off guard when the price of the first fish barely topped $70,000 dollars, kilo-for-kilo not even the most expensive fish sold that day.
Today, the numbers are in, and the first Bluefin of the year sold for a measly $37,500, barely enough to cover the cost to fuel for a fishing boat.
The era of the million-dollar tuna is over.
Update: The blog Food, Sake, Tokyo has the numbers for this year’s auction. Perhaps most interesting, per kilogram the first tuna of the year wasn’t the most expensive fish. A 168-kg fish sold for $382 per kilo (~$64,000 total) compared to $305 per kg for the first fish of the year.
In an unexpected turn, the first Bluefin Tuna auctioned at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, sold for approximately $70,000, a dramatic drop from the record breaking $1.8 million. The buyer, Kiyoshi Kimura, is the same man who won the auction in 2011, 2012, and 2013. This is a radical change from previous years and may symbolize a shift back to actual market value, rather than “auction-as-performance” to drive up the demand for Bluefin Tuna.
It should be noted that even the $70,000 price tag is unaccountably high. The price for Bluefin Tuna in Japan peaked at $34 per kilogram in 1990 and has been in decline (with occasional fluctuations) since. At that price, a 350 kilogram fish would only sell for ~$12,000. This year’s first fish appears to have weighed 230 kilograms.
Every year, on the first Saturday of January, crowds gather at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo to watch the auction of the first Bluefin Tuna of the year. For the last three years, the legendary first tuna broke the record for most expensive fish ever purchased — $396,000 in 2011, $736,000 in 2012, and a staggering $1,800,000 in 2013. Often highlighted as a symbol of the extent people are willing to go to eat that last bluefin tuna, the annual sale of this fish sets the tone for tuna conservation. With the relocation of the Tsukiji fish market to Toyosu in 2014, next week’s auction promises to be the biggest one yet.
Southern Bluefin Tuna are critically endangered, yet political maneuvering has kept tuna fisheries open and several Pacific nations have been caught falsifying their catch reports. Even still, the massive sale of the first tuna of the year is not indicative of the real demand for Bluefin Tuna.
Today marks the first Tsukiji fish market tuna auction of 2013, and, as in the previous two years, the first fish sold broke all previous records. In 2011, the record breaking tuna sold for $396,000. Last year, we tipped the scales at $736,000. Early this morning, the record breaking bluefin tuna blew the previous records out of the water, fetching a whopping $1,800,000 at the auction block, making this 488-lb tuna the most expensive fish ever purchased.
Over the next few weeks, I’m certain that we’ll see this number presented as an argument against bluefin tuna fishing, as an example of an industry out-of-control, and as a symbol of how ruthlessly we’ll hunt the last few members of a species to put on our dinner plates. These issues are reflected in the tuna market, but I want to urge caution in drawing too many conclusions from this record breaking number.