Sushi mania: 489-pound tuna sells for $1.76 million

The dish has become a global favorite. But there are concerns that its popularity is further endangering the world's fish supply.

By Bruce Kennedy Jan 8, 2013 10:20AM
Kiyoshi Kimura, president of Kiyomura K.K., left, helps carry a fresh whole tuna weighing 222 kilograms (489 pounds) in Tokyo, Japan, on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013 (Noriyuki Aida/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

You've heard of going whole hog. How about getting the total tuna?

Tokyo restaurant chain Kiyomura K.K. paid a record $1.76 million at an auction over the weekend for just one fish: a 489-pound bluefin tuna. That comes to about $3,600 per pound.

The Los Angeles Times says the company got into a bidding war in order to have the honor of buying the first fish of the year at the city’s renowned Tsukiji seafood market. "It was a little bit expensive," Kiyoshi Kimura, the company's president, told The Japan Times. "But I hope we can encourage Japan by providing good tuna."

The bluefin will be served at the sushi chain's normal prices of $1.47 to $4.56 per piece. But "honestly, the price should be more than ¥30,000 ($343.56) apiece," Kimura said.

The publicity stunt has also drawn attention to two linked issues -- the dramatically diminished bluefin tuna population, which has been overhunted globally -- and the growing international popularity of sushi.

In just four decades, sushi -- basically raw fish wrapped in vinegar-seasoned rice and seaweed -- has gone from being a delicacy relatively unknown outside of Japan to a global cuisine. In the U.S. alone, sushi consumption between 2000 and 2005 reportedly increased by 40%.

Bloomberg even has a Sushinomics Cost-of-Living Index, which looks at the price of sushi at restaurants in 25 U.S. cities.

And it’s a multi-billion-dollar food industry in the U.S. that has branched out far from its traditional, coastal markets. Sushi can be found at Texas high school football games, restaurants in Salt Lake City and Wichita -- and in the deli departments of supermarkets from Indianapolis to Arizona.

Sushi’s story in the U.S. says volumes about food trends, but also about the growing globalization of our food supplies.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. consumed 4.7 billion pounds of seafood in 2011 -- about 15 pounds of fish and shellfish per American on average -- which puts the U.S. second only to China in seafood consumption.

NOAA says about 91% of seafood eaten in the U.S. was imported in 2011 -- but that figure is somewhat misleading, as "a portion of this imported seafood is caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing and then re-imported to the U.S."

Despite the wide spectrum of seafood available when it comes to sushi -- including fish eggs, clam and octopus -- most Americans want their seafood cooked. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s State of Seafood report, we prefer shrimp, canned tuna and salmon as well as the pollock and tilapia found in processed fish sticks and cutlets at the supermarket.

But sushi’s success has had an impact on other fish commonly used in the cuisine, such as red snapper, yellowtail and salmon.

That growing global demand for sushi-quality fish and other seafood has prompted questions about sustainability of wild fish populations, the future of fish farming or "aquaculture" -- and the health threats consumers face from pollutants in both wild and farmed seafood.

But the Monterey Bay Aquarium report says American consumers are more aware than ever of the environmental and sustainability issues associated with seafood. And many producers, processors and retailers in the seafood industry are removing endangered and unsustainable seafood items from their shelves while setting up policies and guidelines for the seafood they sell.


So in the future, the sushi you eat may contain different ingredients -- but it will probably be more available than ever.

More on Money Now

Jan 8, 2013 1:26PM

FIshing moratoriums are needed to let the oceans recover, like the Atllantic Cod that have al but disappeared



Jan 8, 2013 1:42PM

"a portion of this imported seafood is caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing and then re-imported to the U.S."


I'm not even going to try to figure that one out.



Jan 8, 2013 1:52PM
Please explain how sushi is more of a problem then tuna fish salad or a tuna steak?
Jan 8, 2013 5:18PM
The long line fisherman is what's devastating the oceans.  I beleive the japanese have a large investment in that type fishing.  They need to change the international water rules.  They have a run on the place as it is and could care less about internstional laws pertaining to it.
Jan 8, 2013 2:40PM
BUY AMERICAN and stop funding the demise of America, STOP the outsourcing madness that has caused the U.S. Decline.....The Chinese people put the Chinese first and we Americans put the USA last   This must STOP   We must practice Nationalism   PUT YOUR COUNTRY AHEAD OF ALL.,,,,,,,,The Country is on fire and the elites continue to export industry for short term gains....Daa
Jan 9, 2013 6:29PM
Jan 8, 2013 11:57PM
The countries that are responsible for the overfishing are same ones who do not donate to the states that are managing the spawning grounds and surrounding fisheries at taxpayer expense. They are very cheap and negligent to say the least. The US and Australia spend tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, on fish conservation only to gain a small percentage of a harvest that foreign exploiters benefit by. The insult is when the same exploiters harvest fisheries that the home constituency is banned from touching as part of its recovery programs.
Jan 9, 2013 5:11PM

"a portion of this imported seafood is caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing and then re-imported to the U.S."



Jan 9, 2013 6:24PM
Tariiff RED CHINA and STOP the otsourcing madness...They will take Taiwan
Jan 9, 2013 5:28PM
Are the oceans being over fished? Duh...just ask any shark without its fin!
Jan 9, 2013 6:31PM
Your great-grandchildren are going to be eating each other unless they are uber-rich!  That's because there isn't going to be anything left alive for them to eat if nothing's done.  You may think that's funny, but this hot planet isn't going to be very welcoming for cattle, and there won't be any fish left, so the people are going to fight over crab and goat meat.  While to drive your SUV all alone to the grocery store to pick up that one item, you ought to think about using birth control.  Every additional kid you have probably means that the first one you have is going to be that much hungrier when he/she is old.
Jan 8, 2013 3:08PM
Jan 8, 2013 10:48PM
Jan 8, 2013 8:21PM
How can a fish, however big, command such a price? After all, you can eat only what your stomach permits:-)
Jan 8, 2013 2:18PM
Couldn't you have just reported how expensive this fish was rather than getting into some ridiculous political rant about over-fishing?
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