TOKYO, Jan. 5, 2011 -- For a pair of restaurant owners, it was the fish that did not get away, but they had to pay a record $396,000 to land it.
The record price was paid for a 754 pound bluefin tuna -- roughly $526 a pound -- that will be served up as sushi to customers in Tokyo and Hong Kong.
"I was so nervous before the auction began," said Hong Kong restaurant owner Ricky Cheng. "I'm just so relieved I got the fish."
High-end Japanese sushi restaurant Kyubey split the cost. Owner Yosuke Imada admitted "he went a little over budget."
The giant tuna was caught off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and was one of 538 shipped in from around the world for the first auction of the year at Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market where tuna are known to fetch high prices.
Tuna traditionally sell for higher prices at the first auction of the year known as the "celebratory market." But the fish sold Wednesday broke a 10 year record. A 445 pound bluefin sold for roughly $225,000 in 2001.
Market officials celebrated the new record at a time when Japanese wholesalers face growing calls for tighter fishing rules, as global stock for bluefin tuna declines rapidly. The Japanese consume 80 percent of the world's Pacific and Atlantic bluefin.
The fish are the most popular among sushi connoisseurs, and sushi made from the premium fatty bluefin can cost about $24 a piece at some Japanese restaurants.
In November, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas voted to cut the bluefin fishing quota in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean from 13,500 to 12,900 metric tons annually — about a 4 percent reduction. It also agreed on measures to try to improve enforcement of quotas on bluefin.
The decision was strongly criticized by environmental groups, which hoped to see bluefin fishing slashed or suspended.