By Barry Foy, Special to the Ethicurean
The glimmer of international celebrity outshone the chandeliers in Tokyo’s most expensive hotel on Sunday night, as heads of state, movie stars, and tycoons gathered for what trendspotters predicted would be the party of the year. Flanked by reporters and bodyguards, the glitterati feted the event’s illustrious guest of honor in high style.
The only gap in the list was the guest of honor himself. But partygoers weren’t about to let that put a damper on the proceedings, and a festive air pervaded the ballroom as the biggest names in politics, business, and fashion paid tribute to the world’s favorite sushi fish: the bluefin tuna. The occasion marked the passage of exactly one month since the bluefin was declared extinct.
Photo: Bluefin tuna carcasses in happier days at Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market.
Nibbling from trays of sushi containing realistic-looking tuna substitutes such as raw beef and watermelon, guests acknowledged a debt of gratitude to the delicious fish. Many insisted they hadn’t taken the privilege for granted. “The extinction of the bluefin must serve as a wake-up call for all of us,” stated film producer Devon Gillespie. “With so many delicious creatures in the sea, I believe we owe it to our children to enjoy as many of them as possible before they’re gone forever. I’ve already installed a second freezer at my house, just for abalone and Chilean sea bass!”
A French cabinet minister expressed similar sentiments. “When I think of all the pleasure I got from that majestic fish, over so many years,” he said, “how can I possibly regret using it up? Even my pet Cockapoo loved it — I swear, it’s the only thing she’d touch when the cook ran out of shark fin.”
Halfway through the evening, organizers interrupted the merrymaking to auction off what was billed as the very last piece of toro (luxuriantly fat tuna belly) ever to be seen on earth. Bids reached an astonishing $2.6 million. But even the winning bidder, a member of the Saudi royal family, had to laugh when the choice morsel proved to be a slab of red licorice.
The money, and the licorice, will be donated to charity.
The evening concluded with brief remarks by Italian, Japanese, and American officials. Environment Minister Giordano Scotti expressed optimism over the prospect of replacing lost tuna stocks with whale meat. “It should easily fill the gap,” he said. “Have you seen the size of those things?” The Japanese official, Seiji Chiba, followed with a report on his government’s program to develop a nontoxic red dye for yellowtail and sea bream, two other popular sushi fish.
Last to the podium was Allen Stahl, an adviser to the U.S. president, who announced that, despite overwhelming evidence of the fish’s demise, plans are in place for one final bluefin expedition. Beginning this winter, he said, a joint Halliburton/Exxon team will dredge up Australia’s entire Great Barrier Reef, hoping to uncover any hitherto-unknown schools of tuna that may have concealed themselves within it.
Should the search prove fruitless, Stahl added, the sponsors will make the best of a disappointing situation and drill the newly scoured seabed for oil.
Seattle writer Barry Foy is the author of The Devil’s Food Dictionary.