Japan's Tsukiji market auctions 1st tuna of the year for $165K

While bluefin tuna stocks teeter on the verge of collapse, a Japanese restaurateur has prevailed in the annual Tsukiji fish market New Year's auction, shelling out over $165,000 (about 14 million yen) for a 200-kilogram fish on the first trading day of 2016.

Famous fish market's predawn auctions a fixture on the tourist circuit

Sushi boss Kiyoshi Kimura poses with the 200 kg bluefin tuna he bought at the first fish auction of the year, at his main restaurant near Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, on Tuesday. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty)

Japan is big on its New Year's rituals (the first visit to the shrine, remembering one's first dream…) and one of the biggest firsts is the Tsukiji market tuna auction, which was held on Tuesday.

Having an auspicious start to the year is important, so, if you're the owner of a big sushi restaurant, starting 2016 with a prized fish is a good way to set up the next 12 months.

An auspicious first bite.

One of Kimura's customers, seated at the restaurateur's Sushi-Zanmai sushi bar, which is near Tsukiji market, takes a bite of the prized tuna. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty)

Restaurateur Kiyoshi Kimura, who has prevailed in most of the recent new year auctions, shelled out over $165,000 (about ¥14 million) for a 200-kilogram bluefin tuna on the first trading day of the new year.

In 2013, a bidding war drove Kimura's winning bid to ¥154.4 million (which amounts to about $1.4 million at today's exchange rate) for a 222-kilogram fish.

Tuna, as fresh as it gets.

If fresh is best, then a slice of sashimi from Kimura's Tsukiji-side sushi shop should be as tasty as it gets. Right after the auction, the 200 kg bluefin was ready for customers. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty)

80-year-old market is moving before the 2020 Olympics.

While the tradition of auctioning a big catch isn't likely to change, the location of the auction will. Next year, if all goes as planned, the world's biggest and most famous fish market is due to move into a massive new complex further south in Tokyo Bay.

Tsukiji's predawn auctions are popular with tourists but, since the market was not set up to accommodate large crowds, access has been limited. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty)

Tsukiji's move signals the end of an era for some.

The closure of the Tsukiji market will punctuate the end of the post-war era for many of the mom-and-pop shops just outside the main market that peddle a cornucopia of sea-related products, from dried squid and seaweed to whale bacon and caviar.

The Jogai Shijo, a public market outside Tsukiji, will stay but critics say the loss of the market will sap the area's charm. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Market move slowed by serious snag.

Planning for the move began nearly 20 years ago but the shift was delayed for years due to contamination in the soil at the new location, the former site of a coal gasification plant run by Tokyo Gas.

The city announced in 2001 that the market would be moved by 2012. But cleanup work dragged on, and in 2013, Tokyo Gas disclosed it had found more contamination.

Bluefin (maguro in Japanese) are referred to as 'black diamonds' by fishermen who, in part due to pressure from those concerned with the species' rapid decline, are encouraged to use more sustainable hand-line methods to hook the open water fish. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

Bluefin stocks falling. 

Japanese eat about 80 per cent of all bluefin tuna caught worldwide, and stocks of all three bluefin species — the Pacific, Southern and Atlantic — have fallen over the past 15 years amid overfishing.

Tuna, typically frozen at sea, are laid out on the Tsukiji market floor where wholesalers buy them at auction. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)
Critics of the move said city authorities were swapping worries over cramped, unhygienic conditions in Tsukiji for a new set of health problems: unsafe levels of lead, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and other toxins found at the market's new location. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)