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Japan's 'Tuna King' wins annual auction for $636,000
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 5, 2017

Japan investigating dolphin escape in slaughter town
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 5, 2017 - Japanese police said Thursday they were investigating the escape of four dolphins from a park in a Japanese town that has gained international notoriety for staging an annual slaughter of the mammals.

A fisherman in the city of Taiji noticed that four bottlenose dolphins from the facility were swimming outside their netted enclosure in the early morning, police said.

"We are investigating the case on suspicion of criminal damage," a police official in the nearby city of Shingu told AFP.

He said two of the nets at the DolphinBase park were apparently cut with a sharp object, allowing the mammals to escape, before three of them returned to the enclosure of their own volition. A fourth dolphin was swimming nearby.

Taiji, a small port in western Japan's Wakayama prefecture, was thrust into the global spotlight after the 2009 documentary "The Cove."

The Oscar-winning film depicted an annual dolphin slaughter in the area, where some of the animals are also captured and sold to aquariums.

Environmental campaigners visit Taiji every year to protest the slaughter and authorities have boosted security to prevent clashes between locals and activists.

Defenders of the hunt say it is a tradition and point out that the animals are not endangered, a position echoed by the Japanese government.

In September 2010, a net owned by a local fishermen's union in Taiji was cut, with an Amsterdam-based environmental group claiming responsibility for the act, but no arrests were ever made in that case.

DolphinBase officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday's incident, but expressed outrage on their blog.

"We feel furious about this egoistic and irresponsible act," they said.

Ric O'Barry, the director of "The Cove", was detained in Japan last year for nearly three weeks after being denied entry to the country, and was eventually deported.

O'Barry's Dolphin Project, a dolphin protection and campaign group, criticised the alleged cutting of the nets.

"While we are against keeping dolphins in captivity, we do not condone illegal behaviour," it said on its web site.

Japan's self-styled "Tuna King" has done it again -- paying more than $600,000 for a single fish.

Sushi entrepreneur Kiyoshi Kimura paid top price at the first auction of the new year at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market on Thursday, bagging a prized bluefin tuna for an eye-watering 74.2 million yen ($636,000).

The head of the Sushizanmai chain is now the proud -- if temporary -- owner of a 212-kilogramme (467-pound) fish.

At that price a single piece of fatty tuna sushi would cost roughly $85, or 25 times the $3.4 that Kimura charges for the product at his 51 stores across Japan.

"I feel it was a bit expensive, but I am happy that I was able to successfully win at auction a tuna of good shape and size," Kimura said.

Later in the day, Kimura and his fellow sushi chefs sliced up the giant fish with special knives resembling a Japanese sword at its main restaurant near the market, as hundreds of sushi lovers waited for a taste or two.

"As always, I want to buy the best one so that our customers can have it. That's all," Kimura said when asked about the auction result.

He has built his successful chain into a national brand by paying big money at Tsukiji's first auction every year -- he has now won for six straight years -- essentially using the event for publicity.

He paid a record $1.8 million for a bluefin -- a threatened species -- at the New Year auction in 2013, outbidding a rival bidder from Hong Kong.

Last year, he faced no formidable rival and paid a bargain $117,000 for a 200-kilogramme tuna.

The prices may seem enormous, but Kimura makes sure to get the most out of his money.

Every year, the boisterous auction, which takes place in the small hours, makes national headlines.

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

Greenpeace Japan official Kazue Komatsubara declined to comment specifically on this year's auction.

"But a huge volume of tuna on retail display could make people forget that it's actually an endangered species," she told AFP.

The 2017 auction could be the last at Tsukiji, the world's largest fish market.

It was originally supposed to move to a new location in November, but the plan was put on hold until at least late this year over concerns about toxic contamination at the new site.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said in November that the move could even be delayed until the "spring of 2018" depending on results of health and environmental tests.

But she also held out the possibility of scrapping the relocation altogether.

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