A Japanese restaurateur shelled out more than AUD$700,000 for a massive tuna as part of a ceremonial procedure at Japan’s Tsukiji fish market last week, smashing the record price for a single bluefin and making headlines around the world.
Bidding on the 269kg fish - caught off the coast of Japan’s northern Aomori prefecture - stood at an all-time high of Y56.49 million ($711,864) when the hammer came down in the first auction of the year – highly significant for the industry.
The tuna was caught off Oma, north of the area hit by last year’s tsunami. Although the fish is of high quality, the price has much to do with the celebratory atmosphere that surrounds the first auction of the year. The prime, fatty ‘otoro’ was bought by Kiyoshi Kimura, president of a chain of 46 Tokyo restaurants and will only go on sale in Japan, according to the buyer.
He said cuts of the giant fish would be sold at regular market price as a gift to the Japanese people for all the hardships they endured in 2011, including the earthquake and tsunami that hit the country in March last year.
‘Japan has been through a lot,’ Mr Kimura said. ‘Japan needs to hang in there.’
The Japanese eat 80 per cent of the sought-after Atlantic and Pacific bluefin tuna. However, there are growing concerns over a sharp decline in the number of such fish left in the sea and as a result, farming is appearing the way of the future.
In South Australia, Clean Seas Tuna is closer to perfecting tank-raised tuna which will eventually be destined for the sushi and sashimi of Japan and internationally.
Clean Seas Tuna incoming chief executive Craig Foster said it was worth persevering with the tricky processes and techniques, as there is a strong global market in Japan where demand outstrips supply.
'There's a huge market in Japan for ordinary grade tuna, but the sort of high-grade tuna that we're trying to produce is somewhere between 50 and 100,000 tonnes a year, and that's the end prize.'
Most of the tuna taken into Port Lincoln is 'ranched' – caught at sea, then bred into larger sizes in captivity. The method that Clean Seas is trying to perfect involves raising the tuna from eggs while in captivity, then releasing them at about four months into cages in the sea, when they then grow to maximum size.
It's a method which is significantly more cost-effective than having to put boats out to sea and capture wild fish before breeding them in captivity.
Clean Seas Tuna is a listed company, growing from the holdings of Port Lincoln fishing veteran Hagen Stehr. It has attracted mainstream corporate interest and is chaired by former Santos chief executive John Ellice-Flint.
Despite no firm success to date, the company's technology has been lauded internationally. In 2009 it was named by Time magazine as the second-best invention of the year but the stumbling block has been transferring the fish from captivity into the cold waters of the Spencer Gulf.
Dr Foster, a vet by training, has a background in making aquaculture profitable. He helped develop the Atlantic salmon industry in Tasmania as manager of research and development for Salmon Enterprises of Tasmania and as managing director of the Australasian operations of British-based aquaculture company Skretting.
'It's trying to do with tuna now what's already been done with salmon,' he said.
More at www.cleanseas.com.au