If you have a love for bluefin tuna, then it may amaze you how expensive it can be.
Prized for its marbled effect and flavor in sushi, many fish lovers want to get their hands on bluefin tuna.
Here are 10 reasons bluefin tuna is so expensive.
Why Is Bluefin Tuna So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
A big problem within the fishing industry is overfishing.
This describes a situation in which an area of the ocean has a ratio of too many fishermen per fish.
With several different fishing companies all trying to catch bluefin tuna, it doesn’t take long for their numbers to dwindle.
There are three main species of bluefin tuna and all of them face overfishing problems.
The problem with overfishing is that the issue doesn’t go away after a single season.
While some fish reproduce quickly, they don’t reproduce fast enough to meet fishing demands.
As a result, their numbers decrease more and more every year.
Unless everyone in the world decided to stop eating fish for a few years, their numbers will never bounce back to plentiful amounts.
While regulations are in place to prevent overfishing, they’re not effective.
That’s because there’s a whole black market on fish, especially bluefin tuna.
Unlicensed fishers looking to make money will fish outside of regulations.
They’ll fish in restricted areas, and they’ll fish to higher amounts than laws permit.
This only exacerbates the issue when there’s already a problem with the population of bluefin tuna.
Overfishing is a serious problem for the bluefin tuna supply.
When supply dwindles, but demand is still high, the price becomes exceedingly high.
2. Unable To Breed In Captivity
While many companies and researchers have tried to breed bluefin tuna in captivity, their results haven’t been all that successful.
That’s because bluefin tuna are extremely sensitive to certain environmental factors.
Water temperature, noise pollution, and even the movement of the current can affect their ability to reproduce.
These are all factors that can be difficult to control in an artificial lake or breeding pool.
They’re used to such specific conditions that even the slightest variation can keep them from breeding.
Since fishing companies are unable to breed them in captivity, their only source is the wild.
That means they’re reliant solely on fishing ventures.
Since bluefin tuna can’t breed in captivity, fishing companies are unable to bolster their population.
Supply continues to dwindle while the demand only increases.
Even if researchers or fishing companies did find a way to breed them in captivity, the cost of doing so would hardly impact the price of bluefin tuna.
They would need expensive machinery and a lot of electrical power to maintain the breeding pool with the right conditions for the tuna.
Those costs would only add to the price of the bluefin tuna.
3. Japanese Butchering Expertise
Many bluefin tuna experts agree that the Japanese know how to butcher this type of fish better than anyone else.
They’ve had bluefin tuna as a part of their diet for significantly longer than many other countries.
It’s almost cultural for them.
As a result, they’ve perfected the art of butchering it.
This means that many fishing companies will actually transport the bluefin tuna that they caught to Japan for butchering.
Even those in the United States will ship their tuna to Japan for butchering.
Then Japan will ship the meat back to the United States.
Doing so is costly.
The company has to ensure that the tuna makes the journey without spoiling.
That means they need to invest in high-quality climate-controlled storage containers.
If their fish becomes rotten, then they’ll lose a significant amount of money on their investment.
It takes power to keep these storage containers cool, too.
That adds to the price.
The company also faces other shipping fees and costs that make it expensive.
Once Japan has the fish, then they need to pay the butchers for their services.
Since Japanese butchers are the best in the world for bluefin tuna, they’re not going to be cheap either.
The company has to pay for those services.
Once their meat is ready, then they need to pay for the return trip to their stores.
That means they have to pay for the cost of the storage containers again and the power it takes to keep them operational.
They’ll need to pay shipping fees and costs again.
By the time it returns to their factory, the price for bluefin tuna is already high.
To make up for the cost and make a profit, the company makes the consumer’s price of the tuna expensive.
The size of the tuna plays a big role in determining its cost.
That’s why you’ll notice the cost of tuna in the grocery store is around $2 while bluefin tuna costs several hundred dollars.
It all comes down to size.
The tuna that you see in the store isn’t the same as bluefin tuna.
It’s usually a fish called albacore.
Albacores are small and reproduce rapidly.
Since they’re abundant, the supply for them is high.
It’s able to meet demand which keeps the cost low.
They’re also smaller which means they don’t have as much weight or meat on them.
That isn’t the case with bluefin tuna.
One bluefin tuna recently sold for $3 million.
It weighed 489 pounds.
When a fish’s price depends on its weight, rarity, and quality of meat, then you can be sure that something that weighs 489 pounds is going to be more expensive than something that hardly weighs a single pound.
The size of the bluefin tuna also impacts its price because larger ones are rare.
Since bluefin tuna has a problem with overfishing, it doesn’t allow the species to live very long.
As a result, they don’t reach their full growth potential.
When fishermen can find a rare bluefin tuna that lived long enough to become large and heavy, then that’s a good payday.
It’s expensive because it’s large, but it’s also expensive because it’s rare to find one so large.
The larger the bluefin tuna is, the more expensive it’s going to be.
5. Marbling Meat
The reason that bluefin tuna is the preferred type of meat used in sushi is its marbling effect.
Compared to other types of raw fish meat, bluefin tuna has an incredible quality that allows it to marbleize.
In doing so, it creates a juicy and delectable flavor that other types of fish can’t mimic.
Because of this ability, chefs prefer using bluefin tuna over others.
This increases demand for bluefin tuna because it’s considered a high-quality fish.
With such high demand and little supply, the price for the fish increases.
Bluefin tuna also ages well.
If you can perfect the art of aging fish meat, then you can receive a tender and delectable array of meat and flavors.
It’s why you’ll find sushi and other seafood dishes made of bluefin tuna at high-end restaurants.
It’s a type of fish that only those with money can afford.
The location of where the fish comes from also plays a factor in its price.
Boston is the primary fishing spot for bluefin tuna during the summer and fall seasons.
Japan has the best tuna in winter.
However, the best of these fish reside in the waters near Oma, Japan.
That’s because the fish in that particular region has a higher fat content.
Since it has more fat, it tends to be juicier, and far more expensive.
Bluefin tuna that comes from Oma tends to be around $400 a pound.
If you’re a restaurant serving bluefin tuna from Oma, then you’re going to take on a few pounds to serve it to your guests throughout the year.
With such an expensive investment, the price of the food needs to be as high.
It needs to cover the cost, ensure they have enough revenue to buy more next time, and then also pay the wages of the laborers who prepare the food.
Bluefin tuna tends to be a bit cheaper in other areas of the world, but if you want the most expensive variety, then Oma is where to buy it.
7. Japanese Fish Auctions
If you choose to buy your bluefin tuna from Japan, then you’re going to experience increased prices.
That’s because Japan doesn’t set a flat price for their fish.
Instead, they take the bluefish tuna to auction.
The highest bidder wins the fish.
In this way, the fisherman gets more money.
As do the other individuals involved with the process of selling fish.
Since you’re competing with other people, you can expect to pay top dollar for the fish.
Even if you go through another channel, someone is still going to have to attend the auction and bid on the fish.
Those with enough money are the ones who can take the fish home.
Due to Japan’s auction method of selling fish, it makes bluefin tuna even more expensive than it is already.
8. Time Of The Year
The time in which the fish sells can also play a role in how expensive it is.
In Japanese culture, what you do first in the new year matters.
It sets the path for how the rest of the year will follow.
Because of that, many Japanese people try to do something significant or meaningful at the beginning of the year.
It’s often why the first fish that sells at a high price at the auction house is so expensive.
It’s a custom that indicates that the rest of the year will be as fortunate and wealthy.
It’s also why the first fish sold in 2013 through a Japanese auction house cost $1.8 million.
That happened again in 2018 when a fish sold for $323,000.
While it doesn’t always mean that the first auction of the year will be expensive, there is a good chance of it.
If you want to save money, then it might be worth missing the first Japanese fish auction of the year.
9. Cuts Of Meat
Like beef or pork, fish has different cuts of meat.
Depending on the cut that you receive, the price can fluctuate.
The cheapest part of the meat is akami.
That’s because it’s the most common.
It’s the leanest part of the fish and is at the center of it.
Akami means red meat in Japanese, and it basically acts like the red meat one would expect from beef and pork.
You can tell the difference between a wild caught tuna and a bred tuna based on its meat.
Because bred tuna are force-fed a diet of sardines, their red meat often tastes like sardines.
It can be unpleasant if you’re not a fan of sardines already.
Wild-caught fish, on the other hand, have a more diverse diet.
That’s reflected in how their meat tastes.
The flavor also primarily resides in the fat.
The most expensive cut of the fish is the fillet.
It’s small in size, even for a bluefin tuna, and because of that, it’s extremely expensive.
Butchers will take the filet from the otoro part of the fish.
That’s outside of the head and near the collar.
It’s the fattiest part of the fish and contains a good amount of meat, too.
The price can vary from $10 a piece to $80 depending on its size and quality of meat.
Chutoro is another cut of meat that is expensive.
It has a good blend of red meat and fat which makes it flavorful.
It’s located on the side of the fish.
Besides the cut of the fish, you also need to pay the individual who cuts it for you.
A high-quality butcher is going to present an elegant piece of meat.
A standard butcher will just deliver meat.
It may not even be all the meat that was available.
Paying for the cut and skill of the butcher drives the price of the bluefin tuna up.
10. Demand For Sushi
The final reason bluefin tuna is so expensive is the rising popularity of sushi.
While sushi has been a beloved food in Japan for centuries, it didn’t grow in popularity in the United States until recently.
The biggest boom in its popularity was in the 1970s.
Since then, more and more people in the United States have become fans of sushi.
The problem is that this brings more people to the dinner table for bluefin tuna.
With a small population to begin with, this increased demand is making the price for bluefin tuna soar.
The 1970s are also to blame for the decreased population of bluefin tuna today.
Without the regulations put in place today, the fish were almost wiped out.
While their populations are still low, the fishing industry today tries to only fish the legal amount they can per year.
Since those regulations only allow them to fish a certain amount, it means supply is always going to be below demand.
Because of that, suppliers can increase their prices to make it difficult for just anyone to buy the fish.
Until a new type of fish finds its way into the sushi roll, or until a population boom of bluefin tuna occurs, you can expect the price to always be high.
How To Save Money On Bluefin Tuna
If you’re craving sushi or the flavor of bluefin tuna, then you may wonder how you can save a little bit of money on the purchase.
Follow these tips to save money on bluefin tuna.
1. Choose The Akami Cut
The type of cut that you get from the fish can determine how expensive it is.
If you want the cheapest cut, then you need to choose akami.
You’ll still get a wonderful burst of flavor, especially since it’s wild caught, but you won’t have to spend a ridiculous amount of money on it.
2. Buy In-Season
You can cut down the price of bluefin tuna by buying it in season.
For the United States, this means buying bluefin tuna during the summer and fall months.
You’ll want to buy it from Boston during those months.
If you prefer Japanese bluefin tuna, then you’ll want to buy it in the winter.
Buying the fish while the season is ongoing makes it a little cheaper because suppliers still have a good number of fish to sell before they have to stop fishing.
3. Buy Local
A lot of the price of bluefin tuna comes in its preparation and shipping.
You can save a lot of money by finding a local fisherman who sells bluefin tuna.
You can save by going directly to the source.\
Bluefin tuna is the best type of fish meat for sushi and other seafood dishes.
Its incredible flavor and marbelization make it stand out from other types of fish meat.
However, its low population and popularity make its price soar.
When you’re looking to buy bluefin tuna, consider these reasons it’s so expensive and follow the tips to save money on it.