LOCAL NEW YEAR'S TRADITION
COURTESY OF DON FREITAS
Don Freitas, left, and his crewman, Daniel Silva, hold up four ahi they caught recently. The ahi weighed 150 to 200 pounds each, enough to feed their families and friends.
From sea...to sashimi
An annual tradition puts fresh fish in high demand, but the supply is down
IT'S A PART of New Year's Eve tradition for many families to crowd the supermarkets for fresh sashimi.
GOING, GOING, GONE
Prices expected for the New Year's Eve shopping rush:
802 N. King St., Kapalama
Low-grade ahi: $9.95 a pound
Middle-grade ahi: $16.95 a pound
Premium-grade ahi: $29.95 a pound
TANIOKA'S FISH MARKET
94-903 Farrington Highway, Waipahu
Middle-grade ahi: $25 a pound
Premium-grade ahi: $30 to $32 a pound
HAILI'S HAWAIIAN FOOD
Farmer's Market on Ward Avenue
Low-grade ahi: $10 a pound
But instead of waiting in line and paying up to $30 a pound for fresh ahi, many fishermen opt to catch their own fish for their New Year's Eve gatherings.
"There's a sense of pride for fishermen to put sashimi on the table and say, 'I caught this,'" said William Aila, a longtime fisherman and Waianae harbor master. "They'll only buy fish from the supermarket as a last resort."
New Year's Eve is easily the busiest day of the year for most fish markets, which sell thousands of pounds of sashimi. Sashimi on the table remains a strong New Year's Eve custom for many families in Hawaii. Its roots are in local Japanese culture, with the fish representing prosperity for the coming year.
In most supermarkets and fish markets, sashimi will cost about $10 a pound for lower-grade ahi, up to $30 a pound for the best quality.
Guy Tamashiro of Tamashiro Market expects enough sashimi on New Year's Eve to meet demand, but he warns people to come early or risk missing out.
"Couple of years ago, we ended up completely cleaned out before 1 p.m.," Tamashiro said. "The main thing is for people to come early."
BUT EVEN BEFORE customers get a chance to fight for tasty fish, fishermen have been fighting for their own out at sea. And the fight could get tougher. Some say the catch has been slower than usual.
The amount of fish for commercial fisherman and larger vessels this year has also been lower than in recent years.
Last year, vessels brought in a high of more than 100,000 pounds a day for the week leading to New Year's Eve for the United Fishing Agency, the state's largest wholesale fishing company. So far this week, the daily average has been 60,000, said Frank Goto, the fishing agency's general manager.
Many vessels did not bring in as much fish as they expected, though that could change by tomorrow, Goto said. Many vessels could be saving their catch for tomorrow, he said. However, he does not expect the market price to go up by much tomorrow as compared with Thursday.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Edmund Lawrence, a 20-year fish cutter at Tamashiro Market, was a blur as he skillfully filleted an ahi yesterday.
"Many vessels may be playing the market," Goto said. "It's like Las Vegas. You roll the dice, and you can't tell which day is going to be the best."
Some fishermen are more worried about friends and family than selling the fish.
Don Freitas, nicknamed "Capt. Don" by many of his fellow fishermen, has been fishing for nearly 26 years. He caught a 110-pound ahi on Wednesday that will be enough to feed his family and friends.
"Any other time of the year, I would sell it," said Freitas, 40, of Kaneohe. "But not around New Year's."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Niu Valley resident Inex Minato waited yesterday for her purchase of premium-grade ahi from fish cutter Mana Davis at Tamashiro Market in Kalihi. Minato said she decided to buy the ahi early because of rising prices and limited availability. Market manager Guy Tamashiro warns that anyone not wanting to risk missing out should come early.
He gives his family and friends the "Captain's cut," which he said is more than double the thickness of what customers find in stores.
Barry Brun received 15 calls from family and friends by Thursday requesting sashimi. The 39-old year fisherman from Kapaa, Kauai, said giving sashimi is a way to show people his appreciation.
"If I didn't fish, I don't think I could afford to buy fish to give to my friends and family," Brun said. "It's more special to give the fish I caught to the people who helped me throughout the year."
But even if these fishermen are unable to catch ahi, Brun said his family likes any fish, including ehu, onaga and opakapaka.