Paul Greenberg, a James Beard award winning author, “Four Fish – The Future of the Last Wild Food,” says the Japanese buyer, Kiyoshi Kimura, set the record last year for the most expensive fish.
There are three species of bluefin tuna, Atlantic, Southern and Pacific. Though all three species may be found at any one time on any one menu in the world, Greenberg says it is often Atlantic bluefin that we see on menus in the US and Europe, whereas the Pacific bluefin is more commonly found in restaurants in Japan. All three species of bluefin have suffered from overfishing.
Bluefin tuna didn’t become popular in Japan until after World War 2 when the Japanese were introduced to more fatty foods found in the American diet.
Greenberg cautions sushi eaters of the potential contamination of the tuna found in the waters off Japan due to last year’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Mackerel, anchovies and sardines, he suggests, might be better choices.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. How much would you pay for a fish? Well the head of a popular sushi restaurant chain in Tokyo, just paid $1.7 million dollars for a single blue fin tuna. More than $3,000 per pound of fish that better be some good tuna! Paul Greenberg is the author of “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food’. Now fish is a traditional dish eaten by the Japanese for the New Year Paul, and each year the prices in the fame Tsukiji fish market keep chalking up a new record, but a million and a half dollars for a single fish, is that excessive or that really what good blue fin, or toro as they call it, is worth?
Paul Greenberg: You know I think it’s something of a stunt to tell you the truth. The person who bought this $1.7 million dollar fish, I think set the previous record last year for seven hundred odd thousand dollars, and I think there’s a certain kind of status associated with buying a somewhat rare thing for a lot of money. So, I don’t think it really reflects the true price of blue fin in the world, but certainly blue fin is a very pricey fish in general.
Werman: Well if it’s a stunt, it could be a pretty expensive stunt. Won’t that drive up the cost of blue fin in restaurants and fish markets around the world?
Greenberg: Well I think what it will do is keep blue fin on the radar as this status symbol fish, which I think is something that is not really good for the fish. You know, I’ve had a lot of tuna over the course of my life. I’ve eaten yellow fin and blue fin and I’ve had very good yellow fin tuna, which is a much more common fin tuna than a blue fin, and it is not more inferior then a blue fin tuna. So I think what it is going to do is keep people talking about a blue fin tuna and for a certain kind of sick consumer, who wants to, you know, just show how fancy he is when he goes out to eat. It’s going to, unfortunately, keep it high atop price lists on fancy menus.
Werman: Paul where did the blue fin reputation come from? Why is it so valuable and sought after?
Greenberg: Well, it’s actually a relatively recent thing, as recently as forty years ago the Japanese didn’t really particularly like blue fin. But my sources indicate to me that blue fin started coming into the Japanese diet after the American occupation, when we actually introduced beef eating and fattier foods into the Japanese diet. Then there was another thing that happened which was, in the late 60’s sport fisherman would go after these, you know, 500,000 pound fish in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and they were just sort of throwing them in the garbage afterward. At the time, Japanese businessmen were sending over a lot of electronics to the United States, and then flying the planes back empty. At certain points somebody realized, well, if you have all these empty cargo holds, maybe we should fill them up with something else going back. And so, these big blue fins started going back in the empty holds that previously held TV sets and radios so forth.
Werman: Paul, how endangered is blue fin tuna?
Greenberg: Well, it depends on which blue fin you’re talking about. There are actually three different species of blue fin around the world. There’s the Atlantic, the pacific, and then the southern and the Atlantic and the southern have been markedly over fished and are pretty pretty low abundance. Pacific, it’s expected that they are not doing so well either, but we actually don’t really have great stock status information and people are sort of drawn to this enigma of scarcity in the same way that people are drawn to, you know, rhino horn or elephant tusks. When people see things slipping through their fingers and into extinction, there’s two reactions. It’s either, the more ethical among us want to save it for generations, and the less ethical just want to eat it and get it or it’s gone, and then want to be among that last to have tried it. I think there are that many bad people in the world who think that way.
Werman: So from an environmental point of view, what should I know before I order an expensive piece of sushi, or really any piece of sushi?
Greenberg: When you go to have sushi in American restaurants, quite often it’s going to be tuna that’s headlining the menu. And I’ve certainly read that there’s been some radiation detection in, you know, seafood off of Japan, and a big predatory fish that’s going to be a lot of smaller fish. Geez, I, I certainly would think twice about eating that one. So I guess I always say when people go to have sushi, why not at some fish that are more abundant and just as delicious, that have a better managed regime attached to them, that make for a more conscientious choice.
Werman: Paul Greenberg, author of the James Beard Award-Winning bestseller, ‘Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food’. Paul, good to speak with you, thank you.
Greenberg: Thank you, Marco.
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