Late run brings choke ahi just in time for the New Year

  • Umeke’s fish cutter Jomar Isidro slices ahi for a sashimi platter. Check out a video on West Hawaii Today’s Facebook page to see Isidro in action. (Tiffany DeMasters/West Hawaii Today)

  • The KTA Kona fish cutter filets an ahi. The demand for the fish is high for local New Year’s celebrations. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Haunani Liftee stocks the ChoiceMart case with fish for the new year. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Ahi supply for the Big Island has been anything but normal this year, according to many in the fishing industry.

This year’s summer storms threw off the ahi bite, causing the run to come later. As 2017 comes to an end, those selling fish say there is more than enough supply with costs down compared to last year.

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And that’s good news for consumers, whether they’re looking for poke or wishing to celebrate New Year’s in the Japanese tradition of eating red fish.

Michael Dewey, division manager for Suisan, a fish distributing company, said 6,000-8,000 pounds of ahi were brought in Wednesday. Last week, 25,000 pounds of ahi were hauled in within two days.

“It’s slowed down a little bit, but it was crazy last week,” Dewey said.

Generally speaking, Dewey said, demand is higher during the holidays as it is a busier time of year. On Thursday, Suisan has at least 100 pre-orders from retailers on the island.

“And they’re coming in every day,” he said.

Daniel Stokes, general manager of Kona Fishing Co., said in the 10 years he’s been in the business, prices are the lowest he’s seen.

However, that is not the same story for deep-sea fish. Stokes said deep-sea bottom fish will be high in price and limited because fishermen weren’t able to get out due to weather.

Grocery stores in West Hawaii have been working hard to keep up with the supply and demand as well. Tammie Fukushima, seafood clerk at ChoiceMart in Kealakekua, said usually around winter time things slow down with the ahi bite, which causes prices to go up. This has not been the case.

Fukushima said the ahi weren’t biting during their typical high time, which drove the prices high in the summer time. The seafood clerk added there is more than enough ahi coming this winter, making the prices more reasonable than last year.

“It’s been a crazy year for ahi,” she said Thursday.

As she thought back on previous retail prices, Fukushima recalled an ahi block costing well above $20 per pound last year. This year, ChoiceMart was selling an ahi block for $20.99 per pound.

Fukushima said customers complain about the high prices all the time.

“We try to get them the best quality and value,” she said. “They complain, but they buy because they have to have it.”

Fukushima said the ahi and poke is part of a Hawaiian’s diet and tourists want the fresh fish. She said they will try to get more onaga for the Japanese families and their tradition of eating red fish for the new year.

ChoiceMart’s seafood display opened just after Thanksgiving. Since then, Fukushima said, they have been cutting 300 pounds of poke a day.

On Friday, Nakoa Pabre, owner of Umeke’s said his business has at least 50 platters they will be preparing for pickup on Sunday.

Josh Gomes, of Kailua-Kona, already picked up a poke platter from Umeke’s. He said the platters are good for the holidays and confessed he can be a lazy cook.

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Gomes said he loves fish. He will purchase an Umeke’s poke platter for Christmas, New Year’s and sometimes Thanksgiving.

“Everybody loves the fish on the island so they don’t mind it on any holiday,” he said with a laugh.