Ahi in short supply, high demand
The Sugar Bowl is expected to drive higher-than-normal demand on Jan. 1
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Rough seas and bad weather has kept sashimi for New Year's celebrations in short supply and prices yesterday were close to $30 a pound for top grade ahi.
But there's hope that more fish will arrive today and tomorrow and that there won't be a sashimi shortage.
Fish shipments in recent days have been lower than normal for the week leading up to New Year's Day, said Brooks Takenaka, assistant general manager of the United Fishing Agency, where fish are sold at auction to wholesalers.
Merchants are also expecting to sell more fish than a normal New Year's holiday, with parties planned for both New Year's Eve and the New Year's Day Sugar Bowl game between Hawaii and Georgia.
"The problem is that they (fish wholesalers) are short coming into the New Year's situation already," Takenaka said. "I think it's a combination of the adverse weather and the fact you have this significant demand."
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More than 110,000 pounds of fish went on the auction block yesterday at the United Fishing Agency in Honolulu Harbor.
HOOKED ON FISH
These were the prices for a pound of sashimi as of yesterday:
» Low-grade ahi: about $15
» Middle-grade ahi: about $25
» Premium-grade ahi: about $30
Prices may come down if fishing boats return with good catches today and tomorrow morning.
But it still didn't make up for a shortage of ahi caused by bad weather earlier in the week.
Fish merchants are expecting higher-than-normal demand for sashimi because of the big Sugar Bowl game between the University of Hawaii Warriors and the University of Georgia Bulldogs.
That means more parties on New Year's Day, in addition to the usual high demand for sashimi on New Year's Eve.
"I think it's going to be a major party situation. ... Demand is just that much more this year," said Brooks Takenaka, assistant general manager of the United Fishing Agency, which operates the fish auction.
"Let's just say the wholesalers are not smiling," Takenaka said. "We've got our collective fingers crossed."
If fishing boats come back full today and tomorrow, fish sellers should be able to meet demand and prices could drop.
Low-grade ahi at most fish markets yesterday went for about $15 per pound. In previous years at this time, the price has been about $10 a pound.
Takenaka said recent high winds and rough seas have discouraged fishing. As a result, the fish auction has seen fewer tuna and other deep-sea fish come in for sale.
"You and I would not want to be out there," Takenaka said. "With those type of waves, it's not a very pleasant situation. There are times when people themselves wonder what they're out there."
Yesterday's fish haul raised some hopes for today and tomorrow, Takenaka said.
"We don't know what tomorrow is going to bring," Takenaka said yesterday. "We're hoping like heck that we have a fair amount. So it's hard to say how high the prices will get."
Guy Tamashiro, a veteran fishmonger and owner of Tamashiro Market in Kalihi, said prices for top-grade fish are also up because of demand from restaurants and exporters.
"We finally got some fish (yesterday), but the last three days have been very short," Tamashiro said. "The number of boats coming in was very minimal."
Customer Al Angel, a Maui resident, suspected that selection and prices would not be good when he walked into Tamashiro Market yesterday morning.
"With high seas and strong winds, a lot of people can't catch fish," said Angel, who will take his chances and return to Maui to buy fish. "If they don't have much here, it'll probably be the same situation in Maui."
Makiki resident Gary Kai said he is willing to spend whatever he needs to uphold a family tradition of serving raw fish on New Year's Day. Yesterday, he bought ahi and king salmon.
"This is for tomorrow. We're doing the traditional mochi pounding," Kai said. "And then I'll pick up more fish on Monday."
Robert Yamauchi has bought up to 12 pounds of ahi so far. At about $15 a pound, he might be done shopping for fish.
"I might go again on Monday, but it's going to be really high by then," Yamauchi said. "It's better to just buy earlier. Better selection and prices."