At Tokyo's Tsukiji Market, the world's biggest fish market, the first auction of the year found a 507-pound southern bluefin tuna -- a critically endangered species -- selling for a whopping $70,000 US.
The southern bluefin tuna is, according to the IUCN Red List, critically endangered. The Monterey Aquarium, a worldwide leader in ocean monitoring and conservation, says: "Sadly, our appetite for this delicacy has led to high prices, overfishing and the near collapse of bluefin populations worldwide." Monterey's Seafood Watch, a guide to eating seafood sustainably, says to avoid eating the southern bluefin in all forms, whether wild-caught or farmed. Its current population is estimated to be about 4 percent of its unfished levels, and the species is dangerously close to disappearing. It is, nevertheless, extremely popular worldwide and especially popular in Japan, where it's prized for sushi. Though tuna are sold through auction year round at Tsukiji Market, the first-of-year auction isn't like the others. Andrew David Thaler, writing at Southern Fried Science, explains:
The first tuna auction of the year is a performance designed to drive up the demand for Bluefin Tuna and boost the reputation of the fish market and the purchaser. Historically it is considered an honor to purchase the first tuna of the year, with purchasers willing to pay a premium for that fish
The auction is a charade, a performance in which the most beautiful specimen of a species that's right on the edge of extinction is ceremonially purchased for many times its asking price. You might remember that in 2013, a slightly smaller tuna, also the first of the auction, sold for $1.76 million. And yet a typical price for a tuna of that size and quality is more like $12,000. So, what's going on here? These prices are untethered to reality; it's alleged that these inflated tuna sales aren't even real and that no money actually changes hands. And that's why the drop in price doesn't really matter. Perhaps the bidding wasn't as active this year because of restaurateur Kiyoshi Kimura presence -- he won last year and likely scared off bidders who feared another sky-high bidding war.
Regardless of why the price dropped, the theater rankles. The press reports the absurd price for the luxurious fish, and the effect is the same: the appetite for the tuna not only remains, but grows. People want to eat the $70,000 fish. And soon it will be gone.