A Hong Kong sushi chain bowed out of a high-profile bluefin tuna auction in Japan yesterday, losing its four-year reign as the top bidder but stopping short of dropping the controversial delicacy from its menus.
For the past four years, Taste of Japan - which owns the Itamae Sushi and Itacho Sushi restaurants in Hong Kong - has run promotions following its winning bid for 'Japan One', the biggest bluefin tuna on sale at the first auction of the year at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji fish market.
Last January, the company paid more than HK$3 million for a 342kilogram bluefin tuna and sold it to customers at hugely reduced prices as a 'thank you' gesture. Yesterday, the president of Japanese sushi chain Sushi-Zanmai, Kiyoshi Kimura, snapped up the biggest bluefin on offer for a record 56.49 million yen (HK$5.7 million). 'I wanted to win the best tuna so Japanese customers, not overseas, can enjoy it,' said Kimura of his 269-kilogram catch.
While Taste of Japan in Hong Kong did not bid for the fish, its Japanese subsidiary did.
Instead, Itamae Sushi Japan bought three smaller bluefin tuna for a total of HK$1.05 million, with the catch to remain in Japan for local consumption.
A spokeswoman for Taste of Japan said the company decided not to bid this year so its Japanese affiliate could have a chance to win.
She confirmed the chain still served bluefin tuna at its 35 restaurants in Hong Kong.
WWF Hong Kong marine conservation officer Allen To welcomed Taste of Japan's decision to pull out of the auction yesterday but said this was not enough. 'It is important for ... all restaurants to remove bluefin tuna from their menus,' he said.
The environmental group recently conducted a study to determine the type of bluefin that is served in Hong Kong and found that out of 22 samples, 12 were Atlantic bluefin.
'This is a shocking result. Atlantic bluefin tuna, like pandas and tigers, are classified as endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature list,' To said.
'This is the first time it has been scientifically proven to be found in Hong Kong and it means that customers may be unknowingly helping to wipe out a species in real trouble.'
Since 2009, WWF Hong Kong's campaign to save the bluefin has resulted in 24 restaurants in the city pledging not to serve it.