I. Biological Description
Onaga (Etelis coruscans) is one of Hawaii’s fish better known by its Japanese name than by its Hawaiian name, ula‘ula. It is also called ruby snapper or longtail snapper. This bottomfish is caught in deep waters (100-180 fathoms), especially around outcroppings along rocky bottoms. Most of the onaga caught off the Hawaiian Islands range in size from 1 to 18 pounds. Onaga caught in the South Pacific are often larger.
II. Of Special Interest For Buying/Distributing
Availability And Seasonality: Onaga is Hawaii’s second most important bottomfish in terms of total landed weight and value. Although onaga is harvested mainly during the fall and winter months (October-March), its availability peaks during the month of December when demand (and prices) for red-colored snappers among Hawaii’s Japanese population is at its peak.
Commercial landing of onaga have increased markedly during the 1980’s, due to escalating prices and fishing pressure. Until recently, onaga were caughtmostlyat depths between 100 and 120 fathoms. Commercial fishermen are now fishing at greater depths (150 fathoms) to exploit previously underutilized stocks.
Although onaga is harvested off the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as well as off the main Hawaiian islands, the shorter shelf life of this species compared to opakapaka limits the range of onaga fishing for the fresh market.
Fishing Methods: Onaga is harvested exclusively with vertical hook-and-line gear.
Distribution: Onaga caught off the main Hawaiian Islands is sold at the fish auctions, through intermediary buyers on the major islands, and directly to retail fish markets and restaurants. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands’ catch is sold primarily through the Honolulu fish auction.
Substitution: Substitutions are possible among the deep water snapper species available in Hawaii. Although a more valuable fish (in terms of price per pound) for local consumption, onaga has not yet gained the reputation of the opakapaka in the up-scale restaurant trade. Some up-scale restaurants are substituting onaga for opakapaka or are serving both species. Other small bottomfish (opakapaka, gindai, etc.) can be substituted for small onaga in the household retail market.
III. Of Special Interest For Preparation/Quality Control
Shelf Life And Quality Control: Onaga does not keep as long as opakapaka, but if well handled, it has a shelf life of about 10 days (see Table 3). Onaga caught off the main Hawaiian Islands are Onaga (Ruby Snapper) marketed within a few days, whereas the fish taken in Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in some cases may not reach the market for 7-8 days.
Product Forms And Yields: All of the onaga catch is landed as whole, iced fish.
Onaga is filleted to supply a growing demand for Hawaii-caught snappers in up-scale restaurants. The average yield of fillet from a whole fish is about 45% (see Table 5). However, restaurant buyers often request whole fish for display and to prolong the shelf life of their onaga purchases.
IV. Of Special Interest To Consumers/Food Service Personnel
Color, Taste, Texture: Onaga has clear, light pink flesh similar to that of the opakapaka but somewhat softer and moister. Fish caught during the winter months seem to have a higher fat content than those caught in the summer; hence onaga yield the best sashimi during the winter season. Onaga harvested during the summer months of warmest ocean temperatures occasionally may have “burnt” flesh.
Preparations: Hawaii’s residents have a strong culturally-oriented demand for red snappers for ceremonial occasions such as the New Year’s season and weddings, when onaga sashimi is traditionally served.
Small onaga (less than 5 pounds) are often prepared in Hawaii by steaming the fish with the head on. The heads are also popular for making soup.
Onaga has a delicate flavor which is enjoyed when served raw, (sashimi style) or when baked, steamed, or prepared in a host of other ways.