Saturday, January 6, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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At $25 a bite, this fish is a whopper

The Associated Press

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TOKYO -- The first auction of the year at Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market reeled in a whopper yesterday: a bluefin tuna that set a record price of some $25 a mouthful.

The fish sold for just over 20 million yen - about $175,000 - a market official said.

At about $395 a pound, the 444-pound bluefin was by far the most expensive sold at the Tsukiji Central Fish Market since 1996. That year, a 250-pound bluefin tuna went for $44,000.

Called honmaguro in Japanese, the bluefin can grow to 10 feet long and weigh as much as 650 pounds. It is served raw as sashimi - without rice - or as sushi - with rice.

Tsukiji market official Takashi Yoshida would not identify yesterday's big spender.

A chef at an upscale Tokyo sushi restaurant said it would be impossible for the buyer to recoup his investment, and suggested he paid for bragging rights.

"Japanese people have a weakness for New Year's firsts, and this was the first catch of the new year," said Makoto Miyamoto, a chef at the Kyubei restaurant in the elegant Hotel Okura. "It's the kind of thing you can boast to your customers about."

His restaurant typically pays $85 to $110 per pound for bluefin tuna.

Officials at the fish market told the national Asahi daily that a sushi-sized slice of the record-setting New Year's tuna - a rectangle 2 inches long and an inch wide - would be worth about $25.

A two-piece order of ordinary tuna sushi sells at restaurants for about $4-$5.

Regional, rare and seasonal delicacies are prized in Japan, where even in these days of economic gloom a serving of Kobe beef, from cows raised on beer and massaged daily to make the meat soft and succulent, goes for about $85.

Both the current and previous record bluefin were caught in the Pacific Ocean in Aomori prefecture in northern Japan, an area known for fine tuna.

"It's kind of like a brand name," market official Yoshida said.


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