The owner of Tokyo-based chain Sushi Zanmai has set a new world record for the highest price ever paid for a single tuna at $1.76 million U.S. dollars. Kiyoshi Kimura topped his previous record-setting bid of a mere $736,000 for last year’s first bluefin tuna.
When something valuable goes up for auction and a bidding war begins, prices spiral into the stratosphere. Usually, though, the item on the auction block is precious jewelry or a rare antique, not a fish. The 488-pound bluefin tuna was special because it was the year’s first catch. For restaurateurs looking for ways to make a splash in the news, bidding wars for prestige ingredients can pay off handsomely.
Bluefin tuna isn’t much like the yellowfin and albacore tuna most Americans prefer. Yellowfin, albacore and other species more commonly eaten here have less fat and a milder taste. Bluefin tuna are rich with fat and have a robust tuna flavor that Japanese diners consider a delicacy. Because the large predatory fish have been fished heavily for decades and don’t breed well in captivity, bluefin has gotten costlier. Last year’s record-setting tuna was larger at just over 590 pounds, but prices have gone up as fish weights have declined. Even with soaring tuna prices, the record-setting fish’s price of about $3,600 per pound is extreme.
To put that figure into perspective, the choicest o-toro cuts of bluefin tuna typically go for as much as 2,000 yen apiece, or about $24 for a small sliver. The big fish sold at auction in the Tsukiji fish market will produce about 10,000 pieces of sushi for a total return of less than 15 percent of its value. Still, Sushi Zanmai will recoup its investment as diners lining up to sample the record-breaking tuna order drinks and other items from the sushi chain.