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Tuna fetches record 32.49 mil. yen at year's 1st auction in Tokyo

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A bluefin tuna from Hokkaido fetched a record-high 32.49 million yen on Wednesday in the first auction of the year on the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, commonly known as Tsukiji market, market officials said.

The price for the 342-kilogram tuna, caught off Toi in Japan's northernmost prefecture, is the highest since 1999 when comparable data became available. It was well above the previous record of 20.2 million yen marked in 2001.

The tuna was jointly bought by the operators of a sushi restaurant in Tokyo's upscale Ginza district and a sushi chain in Hong Kong, which joined forces to win bids for the highest priced tuna for the third consecutive year.

Chinese participation in the bidding for the fish helped the price reach its record level, which was equivalent to 95,000 yen per kilogram, up from 70,000 yen logged for the highest-priced tuna the previous year. The popularity of high-grade bluefin tuna in China is growing.

"The globalization of foods led to the high price," one participant said. "This is good news that enlivens the entire market. I hope the Japanese economy will get a boost and pick up as well."

With a peal of bells, the auction began shortly after 5 a.m. A total of 530 domestic and imported tuna were put up for the auction, slightly fewer than the previous year.

The tuna that sold for a record price Wednesday was caught Tuesday by using the longline fishing method and shipped by air.

Until now, tuna landed in Oma, Aomori Prefecture, a port known for the pole-and-line fishing method, had won the highest bids but the region surrendered the title to Hokkaido's Toi for the first time.

In recent years, controls on the bluefin tuna catch have been tightened globally given concern over depletion of resources as a result of over-hunting.