Giant Tuna Sells for Record $173,600

An enormous bluefin tuna — a fish prized as sushi — sold for a record $173,600 today in the first auction of the year at Tokyo’s main fish market.

An enormous bluefin tuna — a fish prized as sushi — sold for a record $173,600 today in the first auction of the year at Tokyo’s main fish market.

At $391 a pound, the 444-pound fish was the most expensive auctioned off at the Tsukiji Central Fish Market in years. In 1996, a 250-pound bluefin fetched $44,100.

Called honmaguro in Japanese, bluefin tuna is popularly served raw as sashimi or sushi in restaurants where a plate of slices can command a bill of more than $100.

Both fish were caught in the Pacific Ocean off Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan, an area known for the quality of its tuna.

“It’s kind of like a brand name,” market official Takashi Yoshida said.

“I was being stubborn and didn’t want to give in to the other bidders,” the unidentified distributor, whose clients include top-notch Tokyo restaurants, told TV Tokyo. “I can’t profit from it.”

A First on All Counts

While declining to identify the buyer, Yoshida speculated that he may have been willing to pay a premium because the fish auctioned today was the first catch put on the block this year.

The symbolism of the New Year is deeply felt in Japan, in everything from the first dreams to the first fish.

So the first day of trading at the Tsukiji fish market saw buyers keen to snap up the first choice seafood for hungry consumers.

“First” events are regarded as portentous by many Japanese, including these fish wholesalers — all keen to make a good buy.

Tsukiji is the largest of Tokyo’s 11 wholesale fish markets, handling about 90 percent of the seafood that ends up on the city’s tables.

The fish market moves more than 660,000 tons of seafood each year, worth more than $6 billion.

There are varieties from more than 60 countries, like crabs from Fiji, though most of the produce is Japanese.

In recent years, the Japanese fishing industry has been worried about competition from growing imported produce. But today’s prize price happily — if temporarily — put those worries aside.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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