06 January 2009

Will a recession ease over-consumption of threatened marinelife?

Apparently not tuna. Two sushi bar owners paid more than US$100,000 for the Japanese bluefin tuna in the photo, about ten times the average price and the highest in nearly a decade.

But there are suggestions of slowing demand in Singapore for abalone, sharks fins and sea cucumbers.

While the issues surrounding sharks fins are better known, it is not well known that abalone and sea cucumbers are also overharvested.

Abalone is actually a snail, with one species from South Africa being considered for CITES listing to protect it from overharvesting. For sea cucumbers, a species from Ecuador is also listed on CITES and the international trade in sea cucumber is considered a significant conservation issue.

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Wholesalers dealing in dried seafood say business has been poor
Sok Hwee/ Lynda Hong, Channel NewsAsia 5 Jan 09;
SINGAPORE: The Lunar New Year is about a month away but wholesalers dealing in dried seafood do not have much to cheer about. They said business has been poor for the past half a year.

Dried seafood prices have been sliding. Compared to half a year ago, the price of canned abalone has dropped by five per cent. A can now costs between S$30 and S$50.

Dried scallops, mostly imported from Japan and China, are 15 to 25 per cent cheaper. Despite the strong yen, prices have dropped to S$105 to S$175 per kilogramme.

Prices of sharks' fins have also dropped by five per cent, costing S$300 to S$1,000 per kilo.

Prices of sea cucumbers have been volatile for the past few years but recently, prices have stabilised to between S$200 and S$400 per kilogramme.

Importers said that even though prices have dropped, consumers are still not buying.

Apart from the economic uncertainty, the merchants have another concern. They may have to move out of the centre at Victoria Street as their lease ends next September.

But the association said that no matter what happens, it plans to keep all importers together. - CNA/vm

Tuna swims against recession tide
Business Times 6 Jan 09;
(TOKYO) The Japanese passion for sushi is apparently immune to the global economic crisis.

A plump tuna on Monday fetched 9.6 million yen (S$151,245) at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, the second highest price ever. This year's first auction took place before dawn at the world's largest fish market, with 730 tunas lined up for bidding. The top-priced fish was a blue-fin tuna weighing 128 kilograms.

'I just wanted to bid on the best tuna of the day,' the winning buyer said, according to Jiji Press. He said he planned to sell the tuna to high-end sushi bars in Japan and China.

The highest price ever paid for a tuna at the market was 20 million yen in 2001. Tsukiji market has long topped must-see lists for foreign visitors to Tokyo.

But the auction was closed to tourists last month and may stay shut indefinitely after fishmongers complained that visitors were bad mannered. -- AFP

Premium tuna fetches $100,000 in Tokyo auction
Associated Press 6 Jan 09;
TOKYO (AP) — Two sushi bar owners paid more than $100,000 for a Japanese bluefin tuna at a Tokyo fish auction Monday, about ten times the average price and the highest in nearly a decade, market officials said.

The 282-pound (128-kilogram) premium tuna caught off the northern coast of Oma fetched 9.63 million yen ($104,700), the highest since 2001, when another Japanese bluefin tuna brought an all-time record of 20 million yen, market official Takashi Yoshida said.

Yoshida said the extravagant purchase — about $370 per pound ($817 per kilogram) — went to a Hong Kong sushi bar owner and his Japanese competitor who reached a peaceful settlement to share the big fish. The Hong Kong buyer also paid the highest price at last year's new year event at Tokyo's Tsukiji market, the world's largest fish seller, which holds near-daily auctions.

Typical tuna prices at Tokyo fish markets are less than $25 per pound ($55 per kilogram). But bluefin tuna is considered by gourmets to be the best, and when sliced up into small pieces and served on rice it goes for very high prices in restaurants.

Premium fish — sometimes sliced up while the customers watch — also have advertising value, underscoring a restaurant's quality, like a rare wine.

Thousands of tuna were auctioned at Monday's festive new year sale, which often brings unusually high prices.

"It was the best tuna of the day, but the price shot up because of the shortage of domestic bluefin," Yoshida said, citing rough weather at the end of December. Buyers vied for only three Oma bluefin tuna Monday, compared to 41 last year.

A similar size imported bluefin caught off the eastern United States sold for 1.42 million yen ($15,400) in Monday's auction.

Due to growing concerns over the impact of commercial fishing on the bluefin variety's survival, members of international tuna conservation organizations, including Japan, have agreed to cut their bluefin catch quota for 2009 by 20 percent to 22,000 tons.

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