Category Archives: Ocean News

The Price of an Oceanic Giant

The Price of an Oceanic Giant

By Charley J. Elias

Here is a recent eye-opening and factual “fish story” that recently made headlines around the world news circuit. This past Saturday, 5 January 2019, Mr. Kiyoshi Kimura, owner of the Sushi Zanmai restaurant chain, purchased an enormous 617 lb. (278 kg) Pacific Bluefin Tuna fish for the record-breaking amount of 333.6 yen which is equivalent to 3.1 million US dollars on the new year’s auction floor of Tokyo’s new Toyosu fish market. (Toyosu replaces Japan’s older and famed Tsukiji fish market, which itself shut down last year.)

The fish was caught off the coast of the Japanese Aomori Prefecture by fishermen of the small town of Oma, which is highly regarded nationwide for the extremely good quality of its tuna catch.  In fact, Oma tuna fish is regarded as the “black diamond” (aka “the best of the best”) because fishermen still use traditional manual fishing gear and methods, instead of modern trawling, that allow them to catch the fish intact and good physical condition when they go to market.

Even though the Pacific Bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) is highly valued and celebrated for its rich taste in sushi restaurants, decades of extensive and intensive overfishing have sent the stock of this species plummeting to less than 4 percent of its historic level.  According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Pacific Bluefin tuna is categorized as being of a “vulnerable” status, meaning that “a species is likely to become endangered unless circumstances to its survival substantially change.”  

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In response to the growing scarcity of the Pacific Bluefin, Japanese and other countries’ governments agreed in 2017 to enact/enforce stricter quotas and regulations on fishing in a strong attempt to rebuild stocks in the western Pacific Ocean from 20 percent of historic levels by 2034.  Hopefully this is a feasible and practical solution.  

Even though the Oma Island fishermen are not completely pleased with this arrangement, they have consented to slow down fishing activity during the summer season, and instead focus on the tuna fishing in the fall and winter when the market can fetch higher prices.  However, when they ventured out in November of last year, 2018, they discovered that the more desirable larger fish were harder to locate and catch, and the catch totals they did obtain were lower in quantity and size.  

This unsettling realization has led to serious concerns from the fishermen, businessmen, and customers that Oma Bluefin tuna could eventually disappear from the Japanese sushi bars for good.

Regardless, there is still a high demand for this fish. In fact, the financial feat in the auction bid by Mr. Kimura exceeds his own previous bid record in that this year’s tuna purchase more than doubles the last record amount he paid in the amount of $1.76 million US dollars for a slightly smaller fish back in 2013. Later, outside the auction room floor of the Toyosu fish market, Mr. Kyoshi Kimura was seen addressing a group of reporters and was recorded as saying: “The tuna looks so tasty and fresh, but I think I did [pay] a little too much,” according to Reuters. 

This year’s gigantic bluefin tuna will be cut up and divided into approximately 12,000 pieces of sushi for Sushi Zanmai restaurant chain. The fish usually sells for up to 40 dollars per pound, but it can actually range up to $200 dollars per pound for the most dedicated and elite sushi-craving customers. Kimura also stated to reporters that he would be serving a single piece(s) of this very large fish to customers later that day at his restaurant chains. 

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