Tokyo - A huge bluefin tuna was sold for $176 000 in the first auction of the year at a Tokyo fish market on Tuesday, amid growing pressure on Japan to help save the threatened fish.
The 232.6-kilogramme bluefin tuna - caught off Japan's northern region of Aomori - fetched a winning bid of ¥16.28m ($176 000), said an official at the Tsukiji fish market.
It was the second highest such bid yet, after a record ¥20.02m paid for a bluefin tuna in 2001, the official said.
The fish was bought by a pair of Japanese and Hong Kong sushi restaurant owners who had also made a joint top bid for a bluefin tuna in the first auction of 2009 at Tsukiji, the world's largest fish market.
"I want to make an impact on the Japanese and Hong Kong economies by buying the highest-priced tuna," the Hong Kong sushi restaurant owner said, according to the Sankei Shimbun daily's website.
The auction came amid worries among Japanese, the world's largest consumers of bluefin tuna, about growing calls for a trade ban for the fish, which environmentalists warn is on its way to extinction.
In a move to protect the species, an international body meeting in Brazil in November agreed to cut the allowable bluefin tuna catch in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean by about 40% this year compared to 2009.
Japan, which consumes more than 80% of tuna caught in the Mediterranean, endorsed the proposal and agreed to reduce its own catch quota accordingly.
"Tuna is a precious food, which is the core of Japanese food culture," said Keiichi Suzuki, president of the Tsukiji fish market, where some 2 280 tuna fish were bid for on Tuesday.
"We would like to provide a stable supply while saving resources," he said as a crowd of bidders clapped to celebrate this year's first auction, with an opening bell echoing through the pre-dawn market.