CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ahi prices at Tamashiro Market yesterday ranged from $7.95 per pound to $24.95. Tamashiro's has been stocking up on ahi in anticipation of New Year's celebrations. CLICK FOR LARGE
Ahi for all budgets plentiful this year
But with premium fish in short supply, early shopping is advised
An ample supply of tuna means a wider range of quality and prices for revelers looking forward to the traditional sashimi at New Year's.
But for those with more discriminating tastes, the higher-grade abura or toro ahi is in short supply.
That's why fish merchants advise consumers to shop early to get the best selection.
"I think we have a goodly supply, but smart shopping pays off, definitely," said Frank Goto, general manager at United Fishing Agency, where 100,000 pounds of mostly tuna were unloaded yesterday.
"The closer you get to that day, the more hectic. ... You have to climb over people to come," Goto said.
At Tropic Fish & Vegetable Center Inc. at the Ward Marketplace, Betty Koseki of Wilhelmina Rise was eyeing the variety of deep-red ahi slabs on display, but wasn't ready to buy just yet. She had heard that the tuna was plentiful and expected to buy this weekend.
"The prices are what I expected -- not as high than in other years," she said, pointing to the slabs ranging from $9.95 per pound for the one-star grade to $17.75 per pound for three-star grade.
"The fish looks pretty good to me," she said.
Consumers can expect to pay an average of $12 a pound for ahi, from $7 at the low end to $30 for the top-grade tuna, Goto said.
Unlike last year, there should be enough good-quality, fresh tuna to go around, said Glenn Tanoue, president at Tropic Fish & Vegetable.
"Everybody will be able to afford this year -- very fresh, not old fish," he said. "Good color, freshness and fresh tuna is ample."
The fishing boats are taking shorter trips and coming back with good loads, he said. "Aku is still coming in, so for people who like aku, we'll have."
Cliff Yamauchi, fish buyer at Garden & Valley Isle Seafood Inc., said there's tuna for every budget.
"Seems to me there's the variety of grades and more abundant this year than last year," he said.
The good news for Hawaii is that there's a lot of fish available on the mainland, including from the Philippines, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, and that makes tuna prices here more affordable, Yamauchi said.
"So as long as you see what you want and you think it's affordable for you, then get it," Yamauchi said. "You never know what's gonna run out."
For Christmas, the supply of fish coming in was good in the beginning, but petered out at the end. The rest of the boats bringing fish for New Year's were expected back in this week.
Guy Tamashiro, veteran fishmonger at Tamashiro Market in Palama, suggests hamachi -- which sells for $15.95 a pound -- as a very good alternative to the high-end ahi. Or mix them up, he said.
Other options are aku -- which can be made into sashimi or poke and is cheaper if a shopper buys the whole fish -- as well as nairigi or kajiki.
At Tamashiro Market yesterday, business was bustling, but not necessarily for ahi. "It's too early to buy," Tamashiro said, calling it the calm before the storm.
The Japanese tradition of eating red fish at the close and beginning of a new year to ensure good luck and prosperity in the coming year has since evolved into a "local" tradition, similar to fireworks, Tamashiro said.
"It's a local thing -- local people want sashimi," he said.
But when it comes to spending money on fish versus fireworks, the edible tradition wins hands down, said the second-generation fish merchant.
"I'd rather put my money there," Tamashiro said, laughing.