The demand for sashimi to celebrate the new year was strong as Hawaii residents swarmed to fish markets yesterday despite a spike in ahi prices.
Some believe higher prices are likely due to the closing for the year of bigeye tuna fishing by Hawaii’s longline fleet in the central and western Pacific. The fleet reached its quota last month, prompting operations to move to the eastern Pacific. The central and western Pacific supplies more than 50 percent of tuna worldwide.
The quota was imposed so bigeye tuna can spawn after a 75 percent decline in the population between the 1960s and 2008. Still, the bigeye population continues to drop.
Premium-grade ahi at Tamashiro Market in Kalihi was priced at $34.95 a pound yesterday. "The fish we do have is high quality," said Cyrus Tamashiro, market president. The store had bigeye tuna available, while bluefin tuna was sold out.
At 3 a.m. yesterday, employees at Tamashiro’s arrived to start cutting fish into cubes and slices before the doors opened at 7 a.m., two hours earlier than their normal market hours. Their first customer arrived at 5:30 a.m. "Real ahi lovers come early," Tamashiro said.
Kailua resident Charles Gall spent $160 yesterday on 2 1/2 pounds of premium-grade ahi, two pounds of hamachi and some poke. Like many families in Hawaii, Gall purchases sashimi every year to celebrate the new year.
A 25-year customer of Tamashiro’s, Gall appeared to be unfazed by the slightly higher prices of ahi this year, just appreciative hamachi was available. "It’s a nice addition," said Gall, who was planning to have a dozen people at his home to celebrate New Year’s.
Throughout the day, a steady stream of customers arrived at Tamashiro’s and at Tanioka’s Seafoods & Catering in Waipahu. Employees directed traffic in the parking lot of Tamashiro’s and Kaumakapili Church, located next to the market. At Tanioka’s two security officers monitored the parking lot bustling with cars as dozens stood in line outside the store.
At Tanioka’s, medium-grade ahi was priced at $34.95 a pound, $4 higher than last year, general manager Justin Tanioka said. Nevertheless, the market placed a limit on orders as the higher prices did not deter residents from placing them. "It’s much more busier this year," owner Mel Tanioka said.
Aiea resident Alvin Sakamoto spent more than $80 on sashimi, ordering 2 1/2 pounds. "I always had sashimi for New Year’s dinner," said Sakamoto, 57.
Pearl City resident John Medlock said he was concerned about the ahi supply because of the bigeye tuna quota. "We ordered a lot earlier to make sure we get it."
At Fort Ruger Market near Diamond Head, owner Bradley Pulice said he noticed customers ordering less this year than last year.
"Instead of a 5-pound platter, they are buying a 3-pound platter," said Pulice, attributing the change to the tough economy. Premium-grade ahi at Fort Ruger Market was priced at $35 a pound.