You can tell it’s going to be a good year for New Year’s poke and sashimi: Brooks Takenaka is starting his workday early.
The manager of the Honolulu Fish Auction will be starting today’s daily sell-off at the unsightly hour of 3 a.m., which means there will be lots of fish available to buyers who supply Hawaii’s seafood retailers and restaurants.
“We’ll have plenty,” said Takenaka, manager of United Fishing Agency, which runs the auction at Pier 38 that usually starts at 5 a.m.
There will be more than 100,000 pounds of fish up for sale today, he said, and tomorrow is likely to see similar numbers.
While recent catches apparently aren’t approaching last year’s record-breaking levels, Takenaka said, there should be a nice range of quality and prices to choose from for New Year’s ahi poke and sashimi.
Consuming sashimi at New Year’s is a tradition for many in Hawaii. In Japan, the thinly sliced pieces of raw fish symbolize happiness and prosperity and ensure good luck for the new year.
There was a time a few months ago when some in Hawaii wondered whether it would be slim pickings for ahi this time of year.
“It was bad,” recalled Nico Chaize, owner of the restaurant Nico’s at Pier 38. “It would have been pretty much zero supply.”
An international panel that regulates commercial fishing in the Pacific had established a limit of 3,500 metric tons of bigeye tuna for Hawaii longline fishermen this year.
But the Hawaii fishery reached the limit in August, apparently due to unusually strong El Nino weather conditions.
“The catch rate was unprecedented in volume,” said Sean Martin, president of the Hawaii Longline Association.
Some three dozen Hawaii-based longline fishing vessels sat idle for a couple of months before the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service created a rule in October allowing additional catch limits for three U.S. Pacific territories. That allowed the territories to allocate up to half of their catch limit to the Hawaii fishing vessels.
But it still wasn’t over. Environmental groups filed suit, arguing that the new rule defied international agreements aimed at stopping bigeye tuna overfishing.
U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi last week issued a ruling rejecting the groups’ claims that the extra fishing is illegal.
The ruling came late in the year, so it probably wouldn’t have affected the new year’s market in Hawaii because the boats were already returning with their catches, said Martin, co-owner of POP Fishing &Marine.
“It’s been pretty good,” Martin said of the commercial fishing lately.
Five or six boats have been landing just about every day with lots of bigeye. “There’s plenty of fish,” he said.
Chaize said his restaurant and fish market at Pier 38 next door to the auction will have plenty of red fish today and Thursday.
On Tuesday a tray of ahi sashimi was going for $24 to $28 a pound, he said, while lower-grade cuts were available for $10.95 to $12.95.
“Everything’s good,” he said. “We’re still taking orders — as long as the fish is still coming in.”
Guy Tamashiro will be at today’s auction bright and early, hoping to snag plenty of red fish for Tamashiro Market in Kalihi, which will be opening earlier than usual — today at 8 a.m. and tomorrow at 7 a.m.
On Tuesday the crew at Tamashiro’s was prepping for today when, if it’s like every other year, the store will be overwhelmed by customers. The parking lot will be jammed, and so will the overflow lot across the street.
“Tomorrow will be a good day,” Tamashiro said Tuesday.
Tamashiro, the market’s vice president, said it’s likely that premium-grade ahi will be priced around $35 a pound with lesser grades as low as $15.95. He said the prices are subject to change depending on availability in the next day or so.
The market will also have imported bluefin tuna, advertised for $34.95 a pound for bellies and $29.95 a pound for the back quarter.
If those prices are too stiff, Tamashiro recommends trying a less-expensive alternative. Kajiki, the Pacific blue marlin, and nairagi, the striped marlin, are available for less than $10 a pound.
Another nice substitute is hamachi, or yellowtail, which is available for $25 a pound and less, he said.