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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Tsukiji 2016 And The Pacific Bluefin Tuna

I like tuna as much as the next guy—unless that next guy happens to be Kimura Kiyoshi (surname first).

Every New Year's day auction since 2012, the affable president of the Sushi-Zanmai restaurant chain has gladly overbid in his efforts to claim the first fish of the year at Tsukiji, a high-end fish market that will close up after eight-decades this year, relocating to a more modern area in Toyusu, just a few kilometers away.

For a 200-kilogram (440-pound) Pacific Bluefin Tuna, Kimura shelled out ¥14-million (US$117,000), a price that was three times higher than what he chucked out in 2015, but still less than what he paid in 2013 when he was caught in a bidding war with a Hong Kong restaurant chain, driving the bids up to a record ¥155.4-million yen (US$1.3-million).

I can get a can of tuna for about $2.99 at my local store - and that's with a wimpy Canadian dollar…

Of course that canned tuna you and I eat as a sandwich (mix the tune with mayo and relish!), is the white meat… what the Japanese cal the garbage part of the fish. They actually call that white tuna meat sea chicken (actually pronounce it as She Che-cone)… after the advertising jingle "What's the best tuna? Chicken of the Sea", a brand of tuna I know well enough.

But, for Kimura and his Sushi-Zanmai customers, the 'otoro' (fatty underbelly) meat of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna is considered a high-quality delicacy… unlike all bits of the Albacore or Yellow Fin tuna I get in my tuna cans. I've crunched bones in the possibly dolphin-unfriendly cheaper tuna cans.

So… a quality cut is a quality cut… and I probably could tell the difference between otoro and sea chicken—one lacks mayonnaise and relish—$117,000 still seems like a lot of money to this comparison shopper.

Kimura Kiyoshi (with blade) bids ¥14-million for the right to own the first tuna sold at the last ever Tsukiji fish auction.
The thing is… the Pacific Bluefin Tuna is considered to be a threatened species… and after hearing about the high prices being doled out at the 2016 Tsukiji auction, environmentalists have again called for a trade ban on the fish to protect it.

Holy crap… first eel and now tuna?

The world of sushi, heck, Japanese cuisine could be in danger of losing its identity, especially since there seems to be a global increase in sushi consumption.

And yet… hasn't there been a push for people to eat more fish as part of our daily diet?

What type of fish do they want us to eat?

I suppose we could eat farmed fish… it lacks the natural wild flavor or its net-caught cousins of the oceans and rivers… I can't tell the difference, however.

Heck, we already use that fake wasabi paste with our sushi… or at least I do at the corner shop…
Pacific Bluefin tuna at Kasai Rinkai Park, Tokyo, Japan... image from Wikipedia via
aes256 -
According to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) report I read, globally, of the 600 marine fish stocks monitored by the FAO :
  • 3% are underexploited;
  • 20% are moderately exploited;
  • 52% are fully exploited;
  • 17% are overexploited;
  • 7% are depleted;
  • 1% are recovering from depletion.
Undeveloped or new fishery. Believed to have a significant potential for expansion in total production;

Moderately exploited
Exploited with a low level of fishing effort. Believed to have some limited potential for expansion in total production;

Fully exploited

The fishery is operating at or close to an optimal yield level, with no expected room for further expansion;

The fishery is being exploited at above a level which is believed to be sustainable in the long term, with no potential room for further expansion and a higher risk of stock depletion/collapse;

Catches are well below historical levels, irrespective of the amount of fishing effort exerted;

Catches are again increasing after having been depleted

So… the report says that the Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnis thynnus) is considered to be overexploited with some 9,000 tons/year being hauled in in the areas in which it is fished, namely areas 61, 67, 71, 77, 81 and 87 in the map below.

So... yeah... the Pacific Bluefin Tuna is indeed losing its hold on the planet... and could, if over-fishing is not curtailed, go the way of the dodo.

On the one hand, I am impressed by how much the 2016 Tsukiji Pacific Bluefin Tuna was sold for; kind of peeved that the sushi guy has that much money to throw around for a wish when I don't; angry that yet another creature could become extinct; pissed because it could do so to feed the ego of some rich old guy and his hot, new and younger wife; conflicted because I sorta wish that was me (er, the rich old guy and not the hot, new and younger wife); and relieved that I've come to the end of a blog knowing that no animals were badly injured in the making of said blog.

For an interesting, sad and ridiculous story, read how the Japanese ate a bird to extinction HERE.

Here's a story on the rare wasabi HERE. A story on the decline of the eel can be seen HERE.

Somewhere underexploited,
Andrew Joseph

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