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The Toxic Saga of the World’s Greatest Fish Market

More than 16 years and 600 billion yen later, the fate of Tokyo’s Tsukiji market is still up in the air

Tsukiji is the most exalted fish market on earth, the sort of humbling place that causes the likes of globally worshipped god-chef René Redzepi to deem it one of the “seven culinary wonders of the world.” With nearly 671 licensed wholesale dealers selling more than 500 different kinds of seafood — $17 million worth a day, and more than 700,000 tons a year — the 23-hectare market is so vital to the global commercial flow of fish that it’s almost impossible to imagine how the international sea critter industry would fare without it.

But the occupants of this oceanic oasis have been dancing to a slow swan song. Last November, after more than 80 years in its current location, Tsukiji’s inner market, the fish-slinging heart of the operation, was supposed to move to Toyosu, a man-made island about 1.5 miles south, where a freshly constructed, state-of-the-art space had been built. Tuna wholesalers scheduled the shutdown of their refrigerators; new contracts were arranged with outside shippers; shrimp mongers tied up loose ends for delivery routes. A stunning film about the market, Tsukiji Wonderland, was released to commemorate the historical moment. Nostalgia was in the air.

The move never happened. Today, Toyosu sits empty, and Tsukiji teems with life, its fate still hanging in the air. This is the, er, fishy story of what happened.