Friday, May 08, 2020

How can a single tuna fish be worth $3 million?

Watching a David Attenborough (Our Planet -spectacular photography, never-before-observed behaviours, etc, etc, but man, I've seen just SO many nature documentaries now), there is some great footage of bluefin tuna hunting out in the open seas. A statistic was mentioned that a single bluefin tuna can be worth $1 million in the fish markets of Japan, which I had heard before, but still find it difficult to square with the fact that you can pick up a can of tuna at the local dollar store for a buck or two.
In fact, the most valuable bluefin tuna ever was sold for about $3 million (333.6 million yen) in 2019 in Tokyo. It was 278 kg (612 lb) a very big fish to be sure, but still not big enough for a couple of million cans. So, what gives?
The point is that it is not bluefin tuna that is used for commercial canned tuna, but albacore tuna, a much smaller, fast-growing, abundant fish. Skipjack and yellowfin tuna are also commonly-canned species of tuna. Bluefin tuna, on the other hand, is a much more exclusive ingredient used in high-end Japanese sushi restaurants, where it is known as kuro maguro. Different cuts have different appearances and oil contents, and apparently different tastes and textures (I don't know, I don't eat fish).
This is not the regular ahi tuna on the sushi menu, which is likely also albacore or yellowfin tuna, but the fancy stuff, for which you will be charged an appropriately inflated price, hence the high valuation of large bluefins in Japanese markets. Because they are so valuable, they have been overfished almost to extinction, and their conservation status is currently 'critically endangered', so you might want to avoid ordering it.
Incidentally, if you see "white tuna" (shiro naguro) being served in a sushi restaurant, also avoid it. There is no such thing as white tuna, and what you are bring served is probably oilfish, butterfish or escolar - fatty oily fish that are actually slightly toxic!

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