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Bluefin tuna sells for $1.76 million in Japan

by Take Two®

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An employee (R) of sushi restaurant chain Sushi-Zanmai shows the head of a 222-kg (488-pound) bluefin tuna purchased for a record price which will be sliced up for customers at the main restaurant of the chain near Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market on January 5, 2013. The 222-kg bluefin tuna was traded at 155.4 million yen (appx. 1.8 million USD) at the wholesale market earlier in the day, nearly three times the previous high set last year. YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

At a large annual auction last weekend, a single 489-pound bluefin tuna sold for a record $1.76 million dollars. That's a whale of a price for a single fish. Conservationists say the demand and rising price for bluefin tuna is decimating the fish's numbers around the world. Here with more on the plight of the bluefin tuna is Richard Ellis, author of the book "Tuna: A Love Story."  

Interview Highlights:

Why did this fish sell for such a huge amount of money?
"It has to do with a particular sushi restaurant spending that much money purely for publicity purposes. It has nothing to do with anything about eating the fish and ultimately a price like that turns out to be very bad for the tuna populations of the world. It's sort of for prestige, it's like buying a $40 million Picasso or a $100 million house in Beverly Hills. The difference is you don't have to kill anything to buy a Picasso or a $100 million house…You have to kill a fish to do this and that's unfortunate."

How did Bluefin Tuna get so popular?
"It became popular after the second World War when refrigeration and refrigeration ships were introduced into Japan. Prior to that you couldn't do anything with a fish, you could pickle it, you could smoke it, and you could dry it but you couldn't save then in any way. When refrigeration was introduced, they would catch tuna by the tens of thousands, stow them down in the hold under ice, then bring them back and store them in refrigerators. It was the Japanese shortly after the war that in Japan that sushi restaurants became popular all over the world."

How did Bluefin Tuna get so popular?
"There's something called ICAT (International Convention of Atlantic Tuna) convention and it is supposed to pass rules and quotas for how much tuna various countries are allowed to catch, but the problem with it is no one pays attention to those rules because they're not enforceable. Nobody has an armed fleet that's patrolling the ocean's of the world saying that's too much tuna on your boat we have to arrest you,' so they go beyond their quotas, they catch as much as they want and they sell it all to Japan. As they do this and as the prices go up in Japan, they fish more intensively because you can make more money. There is no set rate and this million-dollar fish is most unusual, the previous record of last year was $767,000. The price will go up next year will buy a fish for $2.5 million."

What can consumers do?
"You could tell your sushi chef that it's awful to eat bluefin tuna and you'd rather eat fluke, you'd rather eat octopus, you'd rather eat yellowfin tuna…If enough people were to tell that chef he wouldn't order bluefin tuna because no one would eat it. Aside from that here's very little else one can do…In many cases what is advertised as bluefin tuna isn't, it's yellowfin tuna."

What about farm-raising bluefin tuna?
"It would be a viable answer if it worked. I was in South Australia a couple of years ago looking at the attempt to farm bluefin tuna…A company would catch large tuna, keep them in pens in a special climate controlled building…trying to replicate the area where wild tuna spawned and they got the tuna to mate and spawn, and they raised them up to about a foot long and they all died. To the best of my knowledge…they have not succeeded, so the pressure is still on wild caught tuna."

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