A giant bluefin tuna fetched 16.3 million yen ($177,000) in an auction Tuesday at the world’s largest wholesale fish market in Japan.

The bluefin tuna weighs 232 kg – nearly four times as much as the average Japanese man.

It was caught off the northern tip of Japan’s main island of Honshu, in waters famed for high quality fish.

It was the second highest such bid yet, after a record 20.02 million yen paid for a bluefin tuna in 2001, the official said.

The fish was bought by a pair of Japanese and Hong Kong sushi restaurant owners who had also made a joint top bid for a bluefin tuna in the first auction of 2009 at Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market.

“I want to make an impact on the Japanese and Hong Kong economies by buying the highest-priced tuna,” the Hong Kong sushi restaurant owner said, according to the Sankei Shimbun daily’s website.

The auction came amid worries among Japanese, the world’s largest consumers of bluefin tuna, about growing calls for a trade ban for the fish, which environmentalists warn is on its way to extinction.

In a move to protect the species, an international body meeting in Brazil in November agreed to cut the allowable bluefin tuna catch in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean by about 40 percent this year compared to 2009.

Japan, which consumes more than 80 percent of tuna caught in the Mediterranean, endorsed the proposal and agreed to reduce its own catch quota accordingly.

“Tuna is a precious food, which is the core of Japanese food culture,” said Keiichi Suzuki, president of the Tsukiji fish market, where some 2,280 tuna fish were bid for on Tuesday.

“We would like to provide a stable supply while saving resources,” he said as a crowd of bidders clapped to celebrate this year’s first auction, with an opening bell echoing through the pre-dawn market.

Tuna is prized in Japan, where people eat it raw in sushi, but there is concern that stocks are dwindling.

AFPrelaxnews - Photos: Getty Images / Graham Prentice / Justin Guariglia