Bluefin Tuna Fetches Record $736K

VIDEO: The nearly 600-pound fish was caught of northern coast of Japan.

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Photo

If the price of premium tuna is any indication of the country's economic state, then Japan's finances are in good order for 2012.

At Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish a bluefin tuna caught off the northern coast of Japan fetched a record 56.49 million yen, or $736,000, at the first auction of the year. Divided up, the nearly 600 pound tuna costs $1,238 per pound.

The winning bid went to Kiyoshi Kimura, president of Kiyomura Co., which operates a popular sushi restaurant chain. He beat out rival Hong Kong restaurateur Ricky Cheng, who had the winning bid the previous two years.

Cheng broke a 10-year record last year, when he shelled out $369,000 for a giant fish, caught off the coast of Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido.

"Instead of taking the fish overseas, I wanted the Japanese to eat quality tuna," Kiyomura said. "The March 11 disasters and economic downturn [have hurt this country] but I wanted to lift spirits, and encourage others to help boost Japan's economy, together."

The tuna was caught off of Oma, in Aomori Prefecture, just north of the region devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.

Bluefin tuna traditionally sell for higher prices at the first auction of the year known as the "celebratory market."

The record-breaking price comes as Japanese wholesalers face growing calls for tighter fishing rules amid a rapid decline in global bluefin tuna stock. 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 known as "otoro," can cost 2,000 yen ($24) a piece at Tokyo restaurants.

In 2010, 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 four percent. It also agreed on measures to try to improve enforcement of quotas on bluefin.

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