Local fish gone from menus as ban hits
Restaurants may offer species imported from outside waters while the state action lasts
KAHULUI, Maui » Some Hawaii restaurants will begin importing bottom fish from across the Pacific this summer after a ban around the main Hawaiian islands went into effect yesterday.
That means fresh fish like red and pink snappers and the Hawaiian grouper will be harder to come by, and at least nine island restaurants have already removed banned bottom fish from their menus.
At Oki's Seafood Corner in the Kaahumanu Foodland Market, Elisa Garcia acknowledges that her bottom fish will be "not as fresh," if she can get them at all.
Instead, Garcia plans to order popular red snappers like onaga from the Marshall Islands or Fiji. "I have been asking the customer what they think about the outside country," she said.
Many restaurants are choosing not to serve out-of-season fish altogether.
"Patrons must accept the fact that this is no season for bottom fish. Please enjoy our swordfish or mahimahi. They are delicious. In the future, we'll have plenty of onaga back," said Steven Burgelin, general manager for Casanova Italian Restaurant and Deli.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources banned commercial and recreational fishing until Sept. 30 for onaga, ehu, gindai, opakapaka, kalekale, lehi and hapuupuu found in the main Hawaiian islands.
They were concerned that these species are being overfished, which has reduced the populations of the fish normally caught at depths of 250 to 1,000 feet.
Because the ban applies only to the main Hawaiian islands, restaurants can still buy the fish from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where limited bottom-fishing in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is still allowed.
At Valley Isle Seafood, a fish wholesaler, General Manager Victor Daubert said he will increase his orders for fish caught outside of Hawaii by about 50 percent while the ban is in place. "We are making it available because people want the same stuff," he said.
Restaurant managers emphasized that they will still serve only high-quality fish, even if they have to be shipped in.
Fish distributors likely won't suffer financially from the ban because they will carry other types of fish that remain available, Daubert said.