A 507-pound (230 kilograms) bluefin tuna sold for $70,000 (7.36 million yen) during the first Tsukiji market tuna auction of the year in Tokyo Sunday.
Kiyoshi Kimura, who operates a chain of sushi restaurants in Japan, placed the winning bid but paid $1.76 million (155.4 million yen) for a 489-pound tuna last year. That price was more than double the previous record of $736,000 -- which Kimura also set.
"I'm glad that the congratulatory price for this year's bid went back to being reasonable," he told the New York Times.
There were 1,729 tuna sold in the auction Sunday, down from 2,491 last year. The price per kilogram also dropped from 700,000 yen last year to 32,000 yen.
Overfishing has caused the stocks of Pacific, Southern, and Atlantic bluefin tuna to experience a 15-year decline. According to Amanda Nickson, director of global tuna conversation for the Pew Charitable Trusts, over 90 percent of the fish are caught before they reach reproductive age, and the population of bluefin tuna is also less than 4 percent of what it would be without fishing.
About 80 percent of the bluefin tuna caught worldwide is consumed in Japan, but growing worldwide consumption is leading to the plunging population of the fish.
Nickson proposed that there "should be a scientifically informed catch limit for this species, and there should be a minimum size limit" to combat overfishing. But she also said that the ongoing demand for the bluefin tuna is a "major factor in challenges to managing the fishery.
Prices for bluefin tuna imported from other regions are much lower than those from Japan. A 417-pound farmed tuna imported from Spain sold for about $6,400 (662,000 yen), or $34 (3,500 yen) per kilogram. The same type of fish sold at last year's first auction sold for $46 (4,800 yen) a kilogram.
There is also the view that the auctions aren't really auctions but that there are prearranged sales that act as publicity for the market and associated restaurants. But if the auctions are genuine, according to deep-sea biologist Andrew David Thaler, based on a peak price of $34 per kilogram in 1990, even a 350 kilogram (770 pounds) fish would only sell for about $12,000.