Japanese bluefin tuna sold at auction for record $4.4m

President of sushi restaurant chain Sushi-Zanmai Mr Kiyoshi Kimura, displays a 278kg bluefin tuna at his main restaurant in Tokyo on Jan 5 2019

President of sushi restaurant chain Sushi-Zanmai Mr Kiyoshi Kimura, displays a 278kg bluefin tuna at his main restaurant in Tokyo on Jan 5 2019

Self-described Japanese "Tuna King" Kiyoshi Kimura paid a record $3 million for a 612-pound (278-kilogram) bluefin tuna at the first new year's auction in Tokyo on Saturday. The company he runs paid a record $3.1 million for the popular but threatened fish.

Kiyomura Corp. owner Kiyoshi Kimura, right, poses with the bluefin tuna he made a winning bid at the annual New Year auction, in front of his Sushi Zanmai restaurant in Tokyo Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019.

Prospective buyers inspect the quality of tuna before the first auction of the year at the newly opened Toyosu Market, the new site of Tokyo's fish market, on January 5, 2019, in Tokyo.

The auction prices are way above usual for bluefin tuna.

The fish normally sells for up to $88 a kilo but the price rises to over $440 a kilo by year's end, especially for prized trophies from Oma in northern Japan. He paid the previous record of 155 million yen ($1.4m) for a fish in 2013.

"I was able to buy a delicious, super fresh tuna", the sushi chain owner said after the auction, as quoted by media.

"The price was higher than originally thought, but I hope our customers will eat this excellent tuna", Mr Kimura said after the auction.

Japan is the biggest consumer of bluefin tuna, leading to the overfishing of the species, with some experts warning that it faces extinction.

On a normal day a similar sized fish would sell for around $60,000.

In 2018, catches off the coast of Japan were significantly down, and since the middle of a year ago prices in Tokyo have climbed by more than 40 percent.

The Toyosu fish market opened in October after the famed Tsukiji market closed after 83 years of business.

However issues including concerns about outdated fire regulations and hygiene controls prompted the market to be moved to a larger and more modern site.

There are signs of progress toward protecting the bluefin, and Japan and other governments have backed plans to rebuild Pacific bluefin stocks, with a target of 20 percent of historic levels by 2034.

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