It's become an annual tradition: bidding up an outrageous price for a Pacific bluefin tuna during the first auction of the new year at Toyko's Tsukiji fish market.

And on Saturday, a bluefin tuna big enough to serve up about 10,000 pieces of sushi fetched a mind-boggling price: $1.76 million. That's about three times as much as last year's tuna and equates to about $3,600 per pound for the 489-pound fish.

The winning bidder, sushi chain owner Kiyoshi Kimura, is likely well aware that the market value of this fish is much lower. According to a BBC report, Kimura said he wanted to "encourage Japan" with his purchase.

So, what's the problem? As my colleague Eliza Barclay reported last year, this extravagant sale — and the publicity around it — may be just one more way to push demand for this fish, at a time when the species is vulnerable due to overfishing.

An international scientific committee is expected to release its latest assessment of Pacific bluefin tuna stocks any day now. And environmentalists say they're concerned about the imperiled state of this fish population, given that there are few regulatory measures in place to effectively manage its stocks.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit