Fish market or most efficient ocean fish sampling system ever?

Perhaps the name is a little misleading, because the Tsukiji Fish Market is much more than just a fish market. In fact, if it lives in the ocean and can be caught by a crew on a boat or a fisherman on a dock, it can probably be found and purchased here. Our colleagues in Japan tell us that local fisheries and marine biologists walk the wet isles of the market looking for organisms they don’t recognize in the hopes of identifying new species, which they occasionally do. After all, what better way to sample marine organisms? Due to the cost of fuel, a crew and a ship, there are only a handful of marine research vessels plying the world’s oceans conducting research. In contrast, commercial fleets are extensive, with trawls hundreds of yards wide, mile-long nets, and longlines of over 1,000 baited hooks. Since commercial fishermen are paid by the pound (or kilogram in this case) and efficiency is their livelihood, it is not surprising that they still catch species that are not known to fisheries biologists.

The market is a bustling center of activity in the early morning hours, when there is a flurry of constant loading and unloading, fish cleaning, purchasing, and packaging. Everywhere you look people are scurrying about trying to make the best deal on the freshest fish. Unfortunately, due to its popularity as a destination for foreign tourists and the their inability to stay out of the way in the busy, but confined spaces, the market now restricts access to tourists until after 9:30 a.m. when the majority of business is done. The infamous tuna auction, where individual tuna are meticulously examined by aficionados from the best restaurants in Tokyo and then bid on in a style similar to any other auction, is now completely closed to tourists.

It’s estimated that over 2000 metric tons of marine products are sold at the market each day, with an annual value of 5.5 billion dollars.

Photo source: FISHBIO