Record Price for a Bluefin Tuna: A Lesson in Interpretation and Representation


When I saw the below video clip I just had to share it. It is a shining example of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ type of news that is too often presented (or should I say represented) as being a legitimate and unbiased public interest news story in New Zealand.

The enclosed clip was shown on the 6:00pm NZ TV3 News, on Friday 6 January, 2012.

Swank sushi: Tuna fetches record US$736K in Tokyo – Video – TV3 News.

What did you get from this TV3 article? This is what I got from it. These Japanese guys are perverse for paying such obscene amounts for a bluefin tuna. And although this is not representative of the price yet – it is representative of an increasing price trend. And what is casing this increasing price trend? Overfishing.

The clip included remarks from Charles Hufflett, but split his comments into tid-bits in order to place commentary into parts of the story where such commentary was required; i.e. the Japanese auction price v current price of tuna in New Zealand, and then later for a tiny part where Charles referred to the status of the stocks.

I love it how TV3 were able to sedgeway in Greenpeace commentary –

“The tuna owner who owns a chain of sushi restaurants admits that the price is a symbolic gesture intended to liven up Japan after last year’s devastating Tsunami, but Greenpeace says the showpiece is a symbol of the destruction of the species.”

A text book segue. Beautifully done!

Bluefin Tuna. Photo by Chris Park

Then TV3 included comment from Greenpeace oceans campaigner Carmen Gravatt whose commentary made up the thrust of the story – that the obscene price was representative of ‘increased demand’ as a consequence of ‘decreased supply’. With Ms Gravatt stating:

“This basically celebrates over-fishing. It says we are running out of this fish, therefore its going to be more valuable. You know, its starting to become like ivory from elephants.”

The report ends with the poignant point that New Zealanders are beginning to eat more tuna.

My response to this report is – poppycock!! Firstly, I have been fortunate to meet Charles Hufflett on a number of occasions – and I know that I can take for granted that his point before editing was a sustainable one. Secondly, this report is nothing more than an opininated comment on the periphery of the facts, masquerading as a news story.

Now have a look at the clip below that was posted in Thursday’s (5 Jan) Washington Post. The same topic – but so totally different.

So this particular tuna was caught within the Japanese EEZ (in northeastern Japan in the vicinity of Tsunami destroyed Pacific coast of Tohoku and Sendai).  The price of a record 56.49 million yen ($736,000USD or ~$1 million NZD) has more to do with the celebratory and ceremonial atmosphere that surrounds the first auction of the year at the famous Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. This is quite unequivocally put by Kiyoshu Kimura, the President of Kiyomura Co. (a company that owns a chain of sushi restaurants).

“With the Tsunami things were tough last year. Japan needs to regain its strength – so I bought the tuna. I think I overdid it, because I bought the most expensive one.”

also according to the report…

“He wanted to keep the tuna in Japan as a Hong Kong restauranteur had grabbed the share of last year’s first fish.

So the price of the fish is not environmentally and economically significant at all – as the TV3 report would have us believe. The price of the fish instead has socio-cultural significance. It is simply a little dab of weberian social glue. The price is a representation of a number of factors including where the fish was caught, and the fact that it was the symbolic first fish of the new year, and it being a single gesture of optimism by a man for his nation following a bleak year for Japan.

Kiyoshu Kimura, the President of Kiyomura Co with his record Bluefin Tuna

Kiyoshu Kimura, the President of Kiyomura Co with his record Bluefin Tuna

Now after seeing the Washington Post report – have a look at the TV3 report again. Is the TV3 report accurate? Does it want comment from Greenpeace? Is it greenwashing? I think it is. Things are not always black and white. Sometimes we just need to step off the gas a little, step back and look at things in their context. Wild resource utilisation in New Zealand is such a stark polemic. I wish it wasn’t. We really need to lighten up. And more importantly we really need to find a middle way.


2 thoughts on “Record Price for a Bluefin Tuna: A Lesson in Interpretation and Representation

  1. Well yeah Japan, collective symbolism and cohesion are always far more important than other matters. Its what keeps Japan together. Its why the Yakuza toe the nationalist/socialist line. They have a system of katas which keep everyone on board.


  2. Pingback: The challenges of purse seine versus longline tuna fishing | Green Fish Blue Fish

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