The bluefin tuna is a vulnerable species, whose future is at risk due to overfishing — but it's still very good business. At Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, the fish are being auctioned off for absurdly high prices. One tuna, in particular, weighing it at just over 467 pounds, brought it more than $642,000 during the first auction of the year.
Restauranteurs in Japan use the fish auction and the high selling price as a means of publicity for their eating establishments. Kiyoshi Kiyomura, who owns the popular Sushi Zanmai chain and bought the tuna, has consistently placed outlandish bids during the auction, earning him the nickname "tuna king." According to the Guardian, he said that the fish was "a bit expensive, but I am happy that I was able to successfully win at auction a tuna of good shape and size."
And this year's tuna purchase was tame by comparison. In 2013, Kiyomura bought a 489-lb tuna for a record $1.76 million.
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Despite the celebratory nature of these fish auctions, the Pacific bluefin tuna is in peril. While not endangered like the Atlantic bluefin, conservationists have called for a two-year moratorium on fishing a species whose population has dipped 97 percent due to years of overfishing. According to WWF, population declines have been largely driven by demand at high-end sushi markets.
"There is a celebration of these fish [at these markets], which is a good thing, but it gives the impression of wealth and abundance when that doesn't really exist," Ben Enticknap, the Pacific campaign manager at Oceana, a nonprofit focused on ocean protection, told Vocativ on Thursday. "When the populations are so low there should be a strong message of conserving and protecting, and not sending a signal of wealth and abundance."
Jamie Gibbon, officer for global tuna conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts, told the Guardian that the Pacific Bluefin may not have much longer if fishing trends remain the same. "If fishing continues at its current rate, then Pacific Bluefin stocks will fall to levels that are commercially unsustainable, but Japanese officials continue to say that catch reductions will place too big a burden on fishermen," he said. "Short-term profits are being put ahead of long-term conservation."
However, Enticknap added that Japan is not the only culprit in hurting Pacific bluefin tuna, and a lack of coordination between different countries has led to overfishing the same vulnerable population. About 70 percent of these fish are less than a year old when caught, damaging their chances of sustaining their populations. "They're catching young fish before they can reproduce, and that's a major problem," Gibbon said. "It is happening because these fish are valuable and prized and culturally important, and also because people want to eat Bluefin tuna since it tastes great."
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