TOKYO (Reuters) - In the final New Year’s auction at Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market on Friday, the owner of an international sushi restaurant shelled out more than $300,000 for a prime bluefin tuna and said he was “very happy” with the result.
The world’s largest fish market, one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist sites, is set to relocate later this year to clear the way for a road needed for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Hiroshi Onodera, the president of LEOC Co. Ltd which owns the “Ginza Onodera” restaurant chain, paid 36.45 million yen ($323,195) for a 405-kg (890 lb) premium Pacific bluefin tuna - around 90,000 yen per kg.
The price was just over half that of last year’s winning bid of 72 million yen and well below the record 155 million yen paid in 2013.
“I’ve tried to win in the auction since last year, so I’m really happy,” said Onodera, whose company has restaurants in New York and Singapore as well as in Japan. “This is especially true because it’s the last year in Tsukiji.”
Tuna is prized around the world for its use in sushi, but experts warn growing demand has made it an endangered species.
“The high price paid today for a single Pacific bluefin tuna should not distract from the dire status of the species, which has been depleted by more than 97 percent by years of overfishing,” said Jamie Gibbon, a Pacific bluefin tuna expert for the Pew Charitable Trusts, in a statement.
“If countries continue to exceed their catch limits...the very survival of the species will be threatened.”
The 80-year-old Tsukiji market draws tens of thousands of visitors a year to its warren of stalls with exotic species of fish and fresh sushi, part of a tourism boom that is a key part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic revival plan.
“This will truly be the final auction here, so I made sure I came to watch,” said Mitsuko Yamaguchi, the 61-year-old owner of a seafood store.
Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Kim Coghill