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A Japanese Sushi Tycoon Paid $117,000 for an Endangered Bluefin Tuna

Kiyoshi Kimura, owner of Sushi Zanmai restaurant chain, placed a whopping 14 million yen ($117,000) winning bid on a 440-pound fish, which comes out to about $265 per pound.
Photo via Flickr user Paul Keller

Every year, food industry heavyweights gather at Tokyo's legendary Tsukiji fish market to participate in one of the country's most distinguished holiday traditions.

In Japan, making the winning bid on the first fish auction of the year, always a prize catch, means serious bragging rights for buyers who are locked in a stiff competition to feed Japan's insatiable appetite for fresh fish.

But buying the first fish of the year can also also good standing with the sushi gods who, according to the superstition of goshugi soba, which translates roughly to "congratulatory price," or "paying way too much." In fact, paying exorbitant prices is customary on Tsukiji's big day.


READ: Step Inside the World's Most Legendary Fish Market

Needless to say, this unique blend of macho competition and superstitious overpaying leads to all kinds of piscine drama, which is exactly what happened earlier this week at Tsukiji market.

Kiyoshi Kimura, owner of Sushi Zanmai restaurant chain, placed a whopping 14 million yen ($117,000) winning bid on a 440-pound tuna, which comes out to about $265 per pound, almost three times more than last year's catch, the Washington Post reported.

Japanese sushi chain owner on $117,000 tuna: "It was a little more expensive than expected."

— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) January 5, 2016

"It was a little more expensive than expected, but it's the highest quality for its shape, color and fat," Kimura told reporters at the market shortly after buying the bluefin leviathan. "I want our customers to be happy. It was the last auction at Tsukiji so there were many people there, and I feel everyone in the auction was deeply moved."

This might sound like a lot of money, and it certainly is, but $117,000 is hardly a record and pales in comparison to the $1.8 million that Kimura paid when he got locked into a New Year's bidding war with nemesis sushi chain Itamae for a 490-pound bluefin in 2013.

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This year's catch came from Japan's northern coast, which is famous for its tuna population. But the commercial fishing of endangered species like the bluefin, combined with growing demand for high-end sushi, is cause for concern among many environmentalists.

"Given the already dire state of the population—decimated to just 4 percent of unfished levels—it is of particular concern that the auction price is rising again," Amanda Nickson, director of Global Tuna Conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said in a press release. "The international community must let the Japanese government know that additional action is needed to save this species."

But this year's fish auction was historic for yet another reason; this was the very last New Year's fish auction that will ever take place at the 80-year-old Tsukiji market.

The market is slated to close and reopen on a man-made island near the site of the 2020 Olympic games, which is great news for the tourist population, but probably bad news for the bluefin tuna population.