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Eat your heart out, Charlie the Tuna!

January 6, 2012 |  4:00 am

REPORTING FROM SEOUL -– Holy mackerel! Check out this three-quarters-of-a-million-dollar tuna!

A bluefin tuna auctioned at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market Thursday sold for a record $736,000 in the famous exposition’s first bidding competition of the year, the Japanese press reported.

The whopping 593-pound fish fetched the equivalent of $1,238 a pound, another record here and nearly twice the highest price paid for a tuna, set last year, according to a market official.

Even though the fish is top quality, the buyer -- operator of a major Japanese restaurant chain -– admitted that he paid top dollar as a way to boost Japan’s beleaguered fishing industry after last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

"We wanted to serve the best tuna to the Japanese people, who have been discouraged by the Great East Japan Earthquake," said Kiyoshi Kimura, president of Kiyomura Co., which operates the Sushi-Zanmai restaurants.

The tuna was caught off Oma, in Aomori prefecture, just north of the area battered by the March 11 tsunami.

"Japan has been through a lot the last year due to the disaster," Kimura told AP Television News. "Japan needs to hang in there. So I tried hard myself and ended up buying the most expensive one."

He said he wanted to keep the fish in Japan "rather than let it get taken overseas."

Last year's bid winners were Hong Kong entrepreneur Ricky Cheng, who runs the Hong Kong-based chain Itamae Sushi and an upscale Japanese restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza district.

Bluefin tuna is tantamount to Japan’s national dish, sought for its tender red meat, and can sell for $24 apiece at the priciest Tokyo sushi bars. Thursday’s record-setting tuna, if sold at cost, would bring $96 for each piece.

That’s enough to make Charlie the Tuna, the old Starkist TV mascot, turn green with envy.


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Canned Tuna Angles for a Lifeline

Tuna Catch Gets $2 Million in Tokyo Sale

-- John M. Glionna

Photo: Sushi chefs of Kiyomura Co. hold a slice of the $736,000 bluefin tuna at Sushi-Zanmai restaurant near Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Credit: Shizuo Kambayashi / Associated Press