Prized for its fatty marbling, Bluefin tuna is very much in demand in Japanese sushi restaurants and has grown its popularity in America and Europe in recent years. Especially with the Bluefin tuna population’s dwindling numbers, coupled with incredible and sometimes ridiculous marketing ploys, the demand is understandably very high.
How High Can the Cost of Bluefin Tuna Be?
There’s a tradition in Japan wherein chefs and restaurateurs bid on the first freshly caught Bluefin tuna every year. However, it seems a bit more of a publicity stunt to drum up support for the commercial viability of their restaurants rather than the fish actually being worth the price. Being featured on the front page of newspapers, magazines, and news articles on the internet worldwide for free is every marketer’s dream after all.
Renowned restaurateur Kiyoshi Kimura of the Sushi Zanmai sushi chain was always in the same spotlight as his expensive Bluefin tuna purchase every year at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo; thanks to his ridiculously extravagant spending for the first Bluefin tuna of each year.
Below are some of his yearly achievements, which include the most expensive Bluefin tuna ever sold:
- 2012 – paid $736,000 for a 593-pound Bluefin tuna
- 2013 – paid $1.76 million for a 489-pound Bluefin tuna
- 2014 – paid $70,000 for a 507-pound Bluefin tuna
- 2015 – paid $37,500 for 396-pound Bluefin tuna
- 2016 – a 440-pound Bluefin tuna was sold for $118,000
- 2017 – a 466-pound Bluefin tuna was sold for $632,000
- 2018 – an 892-pound Bluefin tuna fetched a price of $320,000
- 2019 – paid $3.1 million for a 612-pound Bluefin tuna
- 2020 – spent $1.8 million for a Bluefin tuna that weighs around 608 pounds
Average Bluefin Tuna Cost
According to Statista, the average cost of tuna in the U.S. in 2018 was $3.80 per pound. And that’s for the regular tuna alone, with Albacore, Yellowfin, and Skipjack topping the list.
But we’re talking about a different kind of tuna here. The gold standard, so to speak. So, how much does Bluefin tuna cost? The Bluefin tuna market price today can go from $40 to around $200 or more per pound, depending on where you buy, the source, the supply, and the season.
At Luxegourmets, a pound of both SuperFrozen Bluefin Tuna Loin and Fresh Farmed Bluefin Tuna Loin cost $99, while a half-pound of Bluefin Otoro – Supreme Fat and Bluefin Chutoro – Medium Fat cost $84.50 and $74.50, respectively.
At Browne Trading, a 3-lb cut of Maine Bluefin Loin costs $100.00, or $33.33 per pound. On the other hand, a 3-lb cut of Maine Bluefin Toro costs $115.00, or $38.33 per pound.
There are basically three types of Bluefin tuna on the market, namely:
- Pacific Bluefin Tuna
It is a predatory Bluefin tuna, common in the waters of the Northern Pacific Ocean. It is migratory and, due to overfishing, is close to being declared threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
- Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
Along with the Pacific Bluefin tuna, this is among the prized fishes for Japanese sushi restaurants. It is also known by different names, such as Giant Bluefin Tuna and Northern Bluefin Tuna. Its name came to be as it is endemic to the Eastern and Western Atlantic.
- Southern Bluefin Tuna
This is a gourmet food that is in high demand for sashimi and sushi. It has medium flavored flesh that is regarded by chefs as the best raw fish to eat.
So far, the largest consumer of Southern Bluefin Tuna is Japan, followed by the USA, and then, China.
Factors Affecting The Cost of Bluefin Tuna
If you have been to a lot of countries and have tried different servings of sushi and sashimi, you know that Bluefin tuna prices can vary significantly. But what do you think really contributes to this huge difference? Find out below.
- The country or place where it was caught
If you’re looking for the best Bluefin Tuna you could ever find on the surface of the earth, Japan is the place to be, particularly in Oma. It is said that the Bluefin Tuna caught here are of superior quality in terms of fat content. If you’re looking to buy one, the winter months are the ideal time as they are considered the peak season for this fish.
- The country or place where it was sold
Just like any business, the cost of living and the cost of doing business affect the pricing of commodities. Supply and demand in certain places also affect the prices. In those states where Bluefin Tuna is scarce but a lot of people are raring to get a taste of this premium seafood, expect a surge in prices.
- How the Bluefin Tuna was handled
Handling and storage of Bluefin Tuna after being caught not only increases the price due to the higher cost of the extra handling. It is also said that certain handlings keep or improve the taste of the fish’s flesh. It automatically follows that a better-tasting fish fetches a higher price.
- Whether caught from the seas or farmed
Another factor that contributes to flavor and therefore, affects the pricing is how it was caught. Was the tuna caught from the sea or was it raised on a tuna farm? Those caught from the sea are said to be more naturally-tasting, especially in the fatty part, as these Bluefin tunas have a more varied diet in the sea or ocean and can swim around in greater depths and distances.
This is in complete contrast with those that are raised on farms, where there could be a limited diet, which can affect the taste of their fats. It is even said that the taste could be somewhat similar to the diet it has been on while being raised. Sardines-tasting tuna, anyone?
In Japan, particularly at Kindai University, a Bluefin tuna costs around $50 to $80 a pound when raised from an egg.
- Part of the Bluefin Tuna being bought
Just like in any kind of meat or poultry product, choice cuts are more expensive than those that are rarely being chosen. In the case of Bluefin Tuna, it’s also the same. Here are the parts of the Bluefin Tuna that you can buy:
1. O-toro (Harakami) – Why is bluefin tuna so expensive? As mentioned, Bluefin tuna is prized for its fat, as the fattiest part of the fish is almost always the tastiest. So it’s understandable that it’s what everyone is after and it’s the most expensive of all. Bluefin tuna’s highest quality part is called O-toro. It is located between its ventral fin and the anal fin. If you frequently stay at 5-star hotels and restaurants, this is almost a staple and is served raw.
2. Chu-toro (Haranaka) – for those who prefer less fat and more meat, Cho-toro is a perfect choice. It is called “fatty meat”. For this reason, it is also less expensive compared to O-toro. This part can be found from around the midpoint of the ventral fin up to around the midway of the anal fin, or just right after the O-toro section.
3. Akami – if you’re looking for the leanest part of the Bluefin tuna, the “red meat,” or “Akami,” is the right part for you. It is also the cheapest part of the fish of all. It can be found in the tuna’s upper quarters on the sides of its spine, all the way through the extent of the tuna’s body.
There are actually three sections to Akami, namely:
- Sekami – this part is found right behind the tuna’s head and is considered a medium grade type of Akami.
- Senaka – this part is the middle part of Akami and is considered the highest quality of the three.
- Seshimo – this is the lowest grade of the three sections of Akami. It is located near the tail.
4.Harashimo – of all the parts of the Bluefin tuna that are being served as sushi and sashimi, Harashimo is considered the least quality and, therefore, the cheapest. This is the meat found towards the bottom part of the tail and has a lot of tendons in it.
5.Kama-toro – this is the meat found in the chin area of the fish. The meat here is a lot firmer than O-toro, although it has an O-toro in it, just less. This part is more suitable for grilling rather than being eaten raw because it has a lot of red meat and tendons. But, hey, whatever floats your boat!
6.Noten – this part can be found on the forehead of the fish, which is composed of meat, fats, and tendons. It has a kind of juicy but a bit more firm texture. This is perfect if you prefer to stew or grill your tuna.
7.Hoho – yes, even the cheeks of the tuna have meat in them. Hoho is a bit firm and has that fibrous texture due to having a lot of tiny tendons in it. This can be part of your sushi, but a lot of people prefer it grilled or used for hotpots.
8.Nakaochi – when all the meat has been cut off from the tuna, all that’s left is this part; the thin meat left attached to the bones of the fish. This can still be used as part of sashimi, sushi, or ceviche, among others.
Bluefin Tuna Alternatives
With renewed calls for the conservation of these species as they are being considered as threatened or nearing endangerment, chefs have pitched in by looking for alternatives, which are still in abundance. This affects Bluefin tuna price per pound since eventually, the need for those species for sashimi will be diminished.
- U.S. Pacific Yellowfin Tuna
This is a great Bluefin tuna substitute described by chefs as “having a very clean flavor”. It has bright red meat, which is great for sashimi and also in salads and sandwiches.
The Yellowfin tuna price is around $30 to $49 per pound.
- Albacore Tuna
This fish comes from farther North where it builds a bit of fat that gives it a rich smooth texture. A mature Albacore Tuna’s average weight 16 pounds. Moreover, it retails between $2.60 and $3 per pound but can be up to $20 or more per pound depending on where you shop and the quality.
- Hawaiian Opah
It is also known as moonfish and has higher oil content than salmon. This characteristic enables it to be perfect for any number of preparations, including sashimi. It sells from $17 to $25 per pound, which is way lower than the average Bluefin tuna cost.
- California Yellowtail
This is another Bluefin tuna alternative with a “clean and mild flavor” and high oil content. It’s available for $23 to $37 per pound.
- Kindai Tuna
This is a program wherein Bluefin tuna is being cultured in farms developed by the Kinki University in Japan in 2002. Unlike other aquacultures where Bluefins are raised from young caught in the wild which further diminishes their population, Kindais are raised from eggs.
The process is known as closed-cycle farming, wherein eggs are extracted from other lab-grown fishes, which reduce the chance of overfishing. Its meat costs $40 to $50 per pound.