The Yomiuri ShimbunWholesale prices for bigeye tuna (see below) have risen, as lower population numbers for the fish and the effect of fishing regulations have led to declining catch volumes.
Tuna consumption typically peaks during the year-end period, and households are already feeling the higher prices. Bigeye is commonly sold raw as akami maguro in supermarkets and at conveyor-belt sushi restaurants.
In Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, the average price of frozen bigeye tuna in September was ¥1,328 per kilogram — 25 percent higher than in the same month last year. Compared with five years ago, when the wholesale price was below ¥1,000, the current price is more than 40 percent higher.
This has been attributed to a significant drop in catch volumes in the main offshore fishing areas in the Pacific Ocean, partly due to overfishing in the past.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The volume of bigeye being shipped to Tsukiji market in September was 25 percent lower than a year ago.
"Because the prices of other kinds of tuna are also rising, we don’t have suitable alternatives to offer. Some companies have switched to bluefin tuna, but their prices are still high," an official of a wholesale company said.
The rising prices appear to be hitting household finances.
At Kaitenzushi Edokko Kanda-ten, a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, bigeye tuna was previously used to make sushi sold as "maguro no akami" (red-fleshed tuna). From this spring, the restaurant switched to bluefin tuna and southern bluefin tuna, even though these varieties are typically associated with sushi of a higher quality.
As a result, the store raised prices of "akami" sushi: When bigeye was used, a plate cost ¥237, but now they are priced at ¥270.
Yellowfin and albacore are typically cheaper than other kinds of tuna, but the taste of these varieties is considered inferior. A restaurant employee explained that they chose to use a better tasting variety of tuna even though the prices are higher.
"Bigeye tuna was the best option after considering the balance between taste and price. We had no other choice," said the 31-year-old manager of the restaurant.
A 38-year-old mother, who was dining there with her family, said her elementary school-age son loves tuna. Because of the higher price, she added, "My husband and I go without so our son can eat more."
Inageya Corp., a midsize supermarket chain operating in the Tokyo metropolitan area, has taken such measures as reducing the amount of bigeye tuna in their mixed packs of sashimi or replacing it with other seafood.
Inageya has kept prices of bigeye tuna sashimi at around ¥498 per 100 grams. However, the chain is struggling because profits have fallen as wholesale prices of the fish have risen.
If bigeye catch volumes continue to decline, or the percentage of farm-raised bluefin tuna sold as an alternative to bigeye increases, the average price of tuna sold in stores could continue to rise.
The variety of tuna typically sold raw in supermarkets and at conveyor-belt sushi restaurants. The domestic distribution of bigeye tuna in 2015 was about 140,000 tons. Bigeye accounts for about one-third of all tuna varieties traded in the domestic market, which totals about 410,000 tons. It is less fatty than higher-grade varieties such as bluefin and southern bluefin tuna. Albacore tuna is mainly sold canned, while yellowfin is typically used for sashimi and canned tuna.