Best of our wild blogs: 7 Jan 14

Dive into the Holidays
from Pulau Hantu

Common Iora nesting
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Read more!

Giant tuna from Japan fish auction arrives in Singapore

Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 6 Jun 13; Also on Today Online 7 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE: A giant wild tuna valued at S$35,000 was presented during a traditional Japanese fish-cutting ceremony on Monday.

Hiroyuki Yamamoto, head chef at Itacho Sushi, said: "Normally if we sell this tuna, one piece costs S$30. But this time we are selling it at S$10, we’re not thinking of profit, just good experience for Singapore people."

The tuna came from the first ceremonial auction of the year in Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market - the world's largest seafood market - and arrived in Singapore on Monday morning.

The Pacific bluefin weighed 95.4kg and was bought by Hong Kong restaurant chain Itacho Sushi to celebrate the New Year.

It is the second highest quality tuna caught this season, after a 230kg tuna priced at almost S$90,000 (7.36 million yen).

A portion of the tuna was served to the public during the ceremony, and the rest will be distributed to Itacho Sushi outlets in Singapore.

Last year, the winning bid for the top tuna was a record S$1.9 million (154.4 million yen).

- CNA/xq

Bluefin tuna price slumps at Japan auction
Channel NewsAsia 5 Jan 14;

TOKYO: A giant bluefin tuna sold at a Japanese auction on Sunday for less than five percent of the record-breaking sum paid last year amid concerns over soaring prices for the prized delicacy.

The 230-kilogramme bluefin tuna was purchased at the Tsukiji market's first auction of the year for 7.36 million yen (US$70,000), significantly down from the 155.4 million yen paid for a fish of similar quality in 2013 - slipping below 10 million yen for the first time in five years.

Bluefin is usually the most expensive fish available at Tsukiji, the biggest fish and wholesale seafood market in the world.

A piece of "otoro", or the fatty underbelly, can cost up to 2,000 yen at high-end Tokyo restaurants.

The winning bidder, Kiyoshi Kimura, president of the company that runs the popular Sushi-Zanmai chain, said the quality of the fish was as good as last year's, telling reporters: "It's the best."

The price decline was in part due to the greater number of bluefins available from Oma, the northern Japanese city that is a top site for tuna fishing.

But after overheated bidding last year saw prices skyrocket, concerns over excessive inflation saw other bidders stay away from vying with the Sushi-Zanmai chain, which won last year's auction for the record-breaking fish.

"The first auction should be a place to bid for the best-quality tuna, which is thought to be a lucky charm for business," said Makoto Kondo, spokesman for the rival Hong Kong-linked Itamae-Sushi chain.

"But it turned out to be a bidding for the sake of high prices last year."

Decades of overfishing have seen global tuna stocks crash, leading some Western nations to call for a ban on catching endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Japan consumes three-quarters of the global bluefin catch, a highly prized sushi ingredient known in Japan as "kuro maguro" (black tuna) and dubbed by sushi connoisseurs the "black diamond" because of its scarcity.

The growing popularity of Japanese sushi worldwide has also led to increased demand.

- AFP/de

Why bluefin tuna have no 'fair' price
The bluefin tuna auctioned off this weekend in Japan was comparatively 'cheap', but the price can't be used as a yardstick for its conservation status
World on a Plate by Emma Bryce The Guardian 6 Jan 14;

Each January for the last several, we have celebrated the New Year with unlimited excess—not only the gluttonous, gammony kind, but the excess which heralds the year's first auction of a gargantuan bluefin tuna at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan. Each time, one fish, whose flesh is prized as an expensive delicacy in sushi restaurants, becomes a symbol of the New Year in this way.

Last January's tuna sold for a record-breaking £1.1 million (155.4 million yen), more than double the price it claimed in 2012, upholding a tradition that has seen that initial coveted bluefin growing increasingly expensive each year.

This past Sunday, everyone braced themselves for yet another mind-bending price surge, expecting the bid to reach far over £1 million. Yet, despite its larger size this time, the 230-kilogram fish sold for the equivalent of only five percent of last year's winning bid, fetching just £43,000 pounds from restaurateur Kiyoshi Kimura. He is the same bidder who won the last two auctions as well.

This year's fish carries the lowest price tag in five years. Some sources speculate this is because of the greater availability of bluefin tuna at another fish market in Japan this year, or due perhaps to other bidders backing out, intimidated by Kimura's formidable reputation at the auction. Either way, as before, this particular price reflects nothing about the conservation status of Pacific bluefin tuna—a population that was found recently to have dropped to less than four percent of its unfished levels—because the auction is too separated from reality to ever function as a yardstick.

Last year, the auction came under critical fire for attaching the excessive price tag to the prize tuna, as conservation groups drew attention to the danger of heightening demand for a creature that is already being overfished. But this latest number, so dramatically lowered, cannot be used to quell fears. The wildly fluctuating price demonstrates only that the auction is subjective and distorted, dictated almost entirely by the bidders' wealth and whims. And even despite this dramatic dip in price, which inches the fish a little closer to its actual market value, conservationists say it cannot begin to reflect the priceless nature of the fish population overall.

So how are we to feel about someone slapping a strip of otoro—the bluefin tuna's most prized belly meat—on a plate and serving it to a few thousand lucky sushi connoisseurs?

"We don't talk about whether you should eat it or not, we talk about whether it's overfished or not," says Sarah Shoffler, fishery biologist and coordinator for the US delegation to the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC). This was the organisation that showed in January last year that Pacific bluefin tuna populations have dropped 96.4% from their unfished levels, with a striking 90% of the catch made up of younger, smaller specimens that might not yet have reproduced.

These findings focused the limelight on two international bodies that have the power to regulate the fishery of this species across the Pacific, one of which, called the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, includes members like the United States, and Japan, the world's largest consumer of Pacific bluefin tuna. Yet the two organizations' 2013 policy response to the ISC's ominous report was weak, says Amanda Nickson, director of Global Tuna Conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts. "They both failed [last] year to decrease the catch from current levels," she says.

The Pacific bluefin is a highly productive fish. "Spawning females can put out millions of eggs each year," Shoffler says. Currently, scientists have no evidence that this so-called 'recruitment' of new fish generations has reduced. However, there's no doubt that the tuna can be classified as overfished, based on its massive overall population dip. "It's not just that they're catching the small [younger] fish, it's that they're catching so many of them"—and have been doing this for so long—that is a cause for concern, Shoffler explains.

For stocks to improve, Nickson lists an oft-repeated string of solutions. "There should be a scientifically informed catch limit for this species, and there should be a minimum size limit," she says, adding that next on the conservation wish list is the establishment of an initial ten-year recovery plan for Pacific bluefin.

But with the fish auction becoming such a firm annual fixture, all that is hard to imagine. "There is no doubt that the ongoing demand for the bluefin tuna species is a major factor in challenges to managing the fishery," Nickson says. The mechanics of the auctions themselves are also subject to speculation, some reporters saying that they are not open bids, but rather prearranged sales that function more as a form of publicity for the market and the associated restaurants.

And if the auctions are genuine, even this year's price is a dramatically elevated version of economic reality. Andrew David Thaler, a deep-sea biologist who wrote about the tuna auction, calculates that the actual market value of this year's fish would be closer to £5,000.

The conservationist's reality is that no scenario can work. Inflate the price of bluefin tuna several fold, and you risk spurring demand to a threatening extent. Let the cost dip and fluctuate dramatically, and you create the impression that the price of the fish is purely an artefact, disassociated from the true value of depleted wild stocks.

Yet year after year, driven by the value we randomly assign to handsome slabs of meat, the cogs are set in motion. In a way, this year's lowered price tag serves as a test of ethical resolve. We're supposed to grasp that everything about this auction scenario is unrepresentative, detached from the real world, and bizarre—so much so that no one should really be eating this fish.

It's something that few like to hear—especially about the foods we deem so central to our cultural refinement. But no matter how low bidders slip, bluefin tuna can, for now, have no 'fair price' attached to its head.

Read more!

Malaysia: 200kg fish sold for RM11,000

Phuah Ken Lin New Straits Times 7 Jan 14;

PRIZE CATCH: Giant grouper bought by restaurant operator in Penang market
GEORGE TOWN: A GIANT grouper caused a stir among traders and customers at the Lebuh Cecil wet market here when it went for sale yesterday.

Onlookers gathered to catch a glimpse of the unique fish. With a length of 2.5m , the 200kg fish was caught in Kedah and brought to the market at 4pm on Sunday.

It was snapped up by seafood restaurant operator Chew Kean Ghee at a price of RM11,000 after bidding ended yesterday.

Fishmonger Jit Budhathoki, 24, said the grouper was the largest he had sold.

"I have never seen such a huge fish while trading here in the past six years.

"In fact, I wanted to keep the fish longer but the deal offered by the seafood restaurant operator was too good to turn down."

Jit said he and his colleagues took more than an hour to cut the fish into pieces before delivering it to the buyer.

'Fish may become endangered soon'
New Straits Times 8 Jan 14;

GEORGE TOWN: The fishermen who caught the giant kerapu should consider themselves lucky since large groupers usually stayed close to the seabed, says Universiti Sains Malaysia marine biologist Associate Professor Dr Aileen Tan Shau-Hwai.

Describing the fishermen's catch as a case of the "one that did not get away", she said the large grouper, or epinephelus lanceolatus, had been over-fished. The giant kerapu used to be common in the Straits of Malacca, with most of it hiding under rocks on the seabed.

"The one that was caught might have been unlucky, as it usually does not venture out of its comfort zone.

"Trawlers fishing in the area might have swept across the seabed and dragged the poor grouper," she said on last Sunday's 200kg catch in waters near the Kedah-Penang border.

She said going by the size and weight of the fish, she estimated it to be about 60 years old. Tan said the population of giant groupers had declined and would most likely become endangered soon.

"The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified the giant grouper as 'vulnerable', which means it is likely to become endangered."

She also dismissed claims that the frequent encounter of the fish were related to bad omen or imminent natural disasters, including tsunami or earthquakes.

"It is not a sign of climate change either. It so happened that the fish had roamed out of its territory and got caught.

"I have dived in many parts of Malaysia. When you dive deep, you do find them at the bottom, hidden under the rocks," she said, adding that the large grouper's behaviour was similar to its smaller cousin, the common kerapu.

Tan hoped in the future, fishermen would release any large grouper that they caught for conservation purposes.

"Giant groupers are spawners. Due to their age and size, they can produce more eggs and this will ensure survival of the species."

Singaporeans and HK folk rush in for huge grouper in noodle soup
Arnold Loh The Star 8 Jan 14;

GEORGE TOWN: A Hong Kong businessman flew to Penang when told that the massive 200kg grouper caught near here would be served as noodle soup.

“I took the first available flight out of Hong Kong after receiving a text message about the catch, and arrived late Monday night,” said Johnson Chan, 67.

“Every time this eatery gets a large fish, I will be on the first available flight here,” said Chan after he had indulged on his “extra special” large bowl of fish head bee hoon soup.

Chan, who manufactures printed circuit boards in Hong Kong, was among the 500 early birds yesterday at the renowned Chew Jetty Ka Bee Cafe in Weld Quay, which paid RM11,000 for the fish caught on Monday.

The head alone tipped the scale at 60kg. The belly weighed 15kg, the liver, 17kg, and the massive swim bladder weighed 18kg.

Five men took three hours to scale, gut and cut the 200kg grouper down to manageable pieces. It took another 12 hours to turn it into the main component for fish head noodles.

Cafe proprietor Chew Kean Ghee, 41, said eating a 200kg fish was more than just a novelty and described it as “a rare chance to sample a grouper this large”.

“The belly, liver and maw of this fish are rare delicacies.

“I pressure cook the belly for three and a half hours to create a springy texture that rivals that of the sea cucumber. The liver, deep-fried, has a unique, sweet taste,” said Chew, who he has the phone numbers of over 300 regular customers in his cellphone.

Whenever he acquires a rare specimen, he flashes everyone a text message.

“Many Singaporeans have already made reservations and some have specific requests for choice parts such as the lips or the belly.

“I keep good relations with fishmongers and try to buy every big fish they have,” he said, adding that he gets about 20 big fish a year, weighing at least 50kg each.

Another recipient of Chew’s text message was state executive councillor Chow Kon Yeow, who promptly showed up with his friends for lunch.

“When I saw the front page photo of the fish in The Star, I couldn’t resist. Penang is the land of great food and this fish head bee hoon tops it,” said Chow.

Chew’s regular servings cost RM15 for a bowl with only fish fillet, and RM20 for added deep-fried fish head chunks.

Those who want to be on the “invite list” for the next big catch can message Chew at 012-465 2744.

Read more!