The first tuna auction of the year at Tokyo’s new fish market set a high bar on Saturday after a restaurant chain paid a record price — more that $3 million — for a giant bluefin tuna.
The city’s famed Tsukiji fish market was relocated to the new space, in the Toyosu neighborhood, late last year to make way for the 2020 Olympics. The market was well known for its pre-dawn tuna auctions, a tradition that is continuing at the new location.
On Saturday, dozens of buyers walked along row after row of giant tuna, examining the fish before making their bids. The $5.3 billion enclosed, air-conditioned facility at Toyosu is a far cry from the grime and grit of Tsukiji, which served as the city’s main fish market for 83 years.
Saturday’s high bidder, Kiyoshi Kimura, the self-styled “King of Tuna,” runs the Sushi Zanmai chain of restaurants. He paid 333.6 million yen, or over $3 million dollars, for the 612-pound bluefin, a value of around $4,900 per pound.
Mr. Kimura has made it a habit of paying record prices for highly sought fish. Saturday’s purchase broke his own record of 155.4 million yen, or about $1.76 million, that he paid for a 488-pound bluefin, in 2013.
“It’s a good tuna, but I think I paid too much,” Mr. Kimura told reporters with a laugh after Saturday’s auction.
The tuna was taken to one of his restaurants near the old fish market, according to a tweet on the Sushi Zanmai account. Photos show a smiling Mr. Kimura with several staff members behind a large cut of the fish.
The bluefin tuna, one of an endangered species, was caught off Japan’s northern coast, according to Japan Today.
The species, the world’s largest tuna, can live up to 40 years but has become critically endangered in recent years because of overfishing, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Fishermen, driven by the high value, have begun using advanced techniques to catch the prized fish, leaving the population on the verge of collapse. An estimated 80 percent of the world’s catch of bluefin tuna goes to Japan for use in sushi and sashimi, and the country has opted out of global conservation efforts in the past.
Japan has tried to farm bluefin tuna as an alternative supply, but the fish are difficult to raise on an industrial scale because of the time it takes for them to fully mature.