The Cost Of Fish For New Year’s Sashimi

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 29, 2010
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At the fish auction in Honolulu: Availability will determine the price of ahi this year

When you read the headlines this week about the soaring price of ahi, know that while your New Year’s sashimi might come in at a record price, there will still be enough for your children and your grandchildren to enjoy when they celebrate in the decades to come.

But doing the right thing can be really hard, and no one knows that better than the guys over at United Fishing Agency, where the usual hub of holiday activity is tempered this year by a significant lack of fish. The closure of the Western and Central fishing grounds have made life difficult for Hawaii’s longline fishermen, and because Hawaii’s waters are among the most carefully and best-managed in the world, that means there’s not enough fish to satisfy the annual New Year’s demands.

“It’s frustrating,” says Brooks Takenaka, the agency’s assistant general manager. “Prices are already high, and who knows how high they’ll really go this year. But it’s the price we all pay for doing things the right way.”

Nobody finds it easy, least of all the fishermen, but the commitment to sustainability and the future of Hawaii’s ocean is one that United Fishing Agency takes seriously.

“It’s natural that people are concerned about the availability of fish - and the price, of course,” says Sean Martin, a former long-line skipper and current board member of Hawaii Longline Association. “But the story should be that the Hawaii fishermen are doing things the right way for the right reasons. There’s a lot of talk out there about sustainability and protecting our resources, but how many people can say they really do it?”

The longline fleet has been practicing sustainability for years, and as Takenaka is often quoted saying, the methods have made Hawaii waters some of the best-managed waters in the world.

That’s not true all around the Pacific and beyond.

“It’s frustrating, of course,” says Martin, “when we see other fishery participants who don’t have the same concerns we have, but we have to continue to do what we believe to be the right thing.”

And that means leaving the waters when quotas are met.

While this week’s prices will no doubt have many wishing to bend the rules, the end result is all about making real progress in keeping our oceans stocked for generations to come. It’s easy to speak about sustainability, much harder to actually live with the sacrifices it takes.

But you never really know, even at this late stage, what might happen to the price of your New Year’s fish.

“Fishing is a dynamic business,” says Takenaka, “and fishermen are gamblers. We never know when we leave the dock if we’re going to bring anything home. It’s not unusual for us to be fishing east of Hilo, most likely where we’ll be this week, and if the fish are there, then we’ll be taking advantage of that.”

So whatever the cost of your ahi this holiday season, think of it in terms of a personal contribution to sustainability, because cheap fish now means an empty ocean later. And that’s way too high a price to pay.

Happy New Year!

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