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EcoWatch Exclusive: Ocean Conservation Expert Carl Safina on the Tuna That Sold for $3 Million

Blue fin tuna jumping to catch flying fishes. bbevren / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Bluefin tuna made the news this week when a 612-pound specimen of the fascinating but vulnerable fish sold for a record $3.1 million at a New Year's auction at Tokyo's Toyosu fish market Saturday. The purchaser was Japanese sushi chain owner and self-proclaimed "Tuna King" Kiyoshi Kimura.

"The tuna looks so tasty because it's fat and (looks) very fresh. It is a good tuna. But I think I did too much," Kimura said, as CNN reported.


But what do auctions like this mean for a fish whose Pacific population has declined by 96 percent over the last 400 years, as Al-Jazeera English reported in the clip shown below?

🇯🇵 Japan's sushi king pays record price for bluefin tuna l Al Jazeera English youtu.be

EcoWatch spoke with renowned conservationist and writer Carl Safina to find out.

"The prices accorded these fish in Japan have long been insane," Safina told EcoWatch in an email. "The fish become an ego contest for wealthy restaurateurs one-upping each other to display their wealth. The higher the price, the more they devalue the actual fish as the magnificent wild creature that it is."

Safina explained what made bluefin tuna so incredible.

"Bluefin tunas, largest and most wide-ranging of all tunas, are several species of warm-blooded, ocean-crossing giants that can travel at highway speeds and can weigh almost a ton," he wrote.

However, the fish are in serious trouble throughout the world's oceans. In addition to their depletion in the North Pacific, they have been apparently wiped out in the South Atlantic due to overfishing. In the North Atlantic, they are at around 18 percent of their 1950 numbers, according to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna.

But the valuable bluefin are one of the world's most exploited fish, and their desirability has consequences. Catch quotas were raised by 50 percent for 2017 to 2020, according to ScienceAdvances, after management practices helped increased the population in the Atlantic ocean.

"They are completely awesome creatures," Safina told EcoWatch. "If it was up to me, they would never be fished commercially or sold and they would be allowed to return to their former abundance and their role in nature."

Safina is familiar with the tensions surrounding this fish. He was featured in the film Bluefin by John Hopkins, which looks at the bluefin fishing industry in North Lake, Canada, where a surprising resurgence of bluefin tuna left fishermen and scientists scrambling for answers.

"The intense and acrimonious debate among Canadian fishermen whose catches get flown to Tokyo for the daily auction is a microcosm of the intensity and passion in the inflamed pursuit of bluefin tuna through the oceans of the world," Safina told EcoWatch.

Safina has a Ph.D. in ecology. He worked in ocean conservation for many years, leading campaigns to ban driftnets, rewrite U.S. fisheries law, pass a UN global fisheries treaty and conserve sharks, tuna and other fish. He now focuses on writing and runs the Safina Center, which works to produce both scientific and creative projects advocating conservation. He is the inaugural holder of the Endowed Research Chair for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University.

Correction: This article has been updated to provide greater clarity regarding the increase in catch quotas.

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