100 Surprising Facts About Sushi - #10. How much was the highest price paid for tuna?
(Mr. Kimura, president of sushi restaurant chain, "Sushi Zanmai," with his winning tuna. )
Tuna is undoubtedly the most popular sushi item. According to five different surveys, Maguro/Tuna ranks as the No.1 popular sushi item in Japan.
When we say Maguro/Tuna for sushi, there are mainly three kinds of tuna: Bluefin, Big Eye and Yellowfin Tuna.
Bluefins are the largest of the kind living up to 40-50 years and can dive more than 4,000ft. The largest ever recorded was Atlantic Blue Fin tuna weighing 680kilograms (1,500lbs.) and 458cm (15ft.) in length. If you ever had toro/tuna belly, it's likely that it came from Bluefin tuna.
Every year at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, there is a "ceremonial" tuna auction around New Year's Day. At this first auction of the year, it is believed that good fortune will come to the one who wins the tuna by overbidding. It is a Japanese custom and cultural tradition.
As such, the (overbid) price paid for the tuna on this day at Tsukiji is NOT an indication of how much other tunas are sold.
In 2010, Bluefin tuna (232kg/511lbs.) from Oma was sold for JPN¥16.28million/US$175,000. The following year, Bluefin from Hokkaido weighing 342kg/754lbs. was sold for JPN¥32.49million/US$396,000. So-called overbidding war between several sushi restaurants is believed to lead this price hike.
Then in 2012, people were shocked by whopping JPN¥56.49million/US$736,000 for 269kg/593lbs. Bluefin from Oma, Aomori. Bluefin from Oma is considered to be the best and brought fresh to Tsukiji unlike most of other bluefins, which are fast frozen on ship right after they are caught.
In 2013, the record was made for the highest ever paid to one Bluefin tuna - JPN¥155.4million/US$1,76million! (221kg/487lbs.) This is enough to serve 10,000 pieces of nigiri sushi. The fisherman who caught the bluefin said he was "stunned" and so were other fishermen.
After paying 10% commission to the fish market and local fishing association, the 36 year old tuna fisherman received JPN¥140million/US$1.58million for his catch. However, he has to pay the highest income tax rate of 40%, which brought his take down to JPN¥83million/US$900,000.
Not bad for catching one fish, you may think. At first, it sounds like being a tuna fisherman can make you rich. The reality is far from it.
In the beginning, most of the fisherman borrow money from bank to buy ship, costing them anywhere from US$100,000~US$250,000. The fuel costs US$500/day and they can go without a catch for a month.
It's hard and unpredictable work, where many only earns between US$30,000~$40,000 a year. Bluefin Tuna season in Oma lasts six months a year, so rest of the year, fishermen must to look for other catch like squid.
The bluefin tuna sold for JPN¥56.49million/US$736,000 in 2012 would have become JPN¥2,000/$22 for a piece of toro at the sushi restaurant. Instead, it was served for their regular price of JPN¥398/US$4.4.
If were not on the first day of the auction, the same tuna would've been sold for around JPN¥20million~30million/US$220,000~330,000.
"I just want many people to enjoy the tuna," says Mr. Kimura, the president of the sushi restaurant chain, who won the auction.