The Hawaii Seafood Buyers’ Guide
Fresh seafood has been popular in Hawaii since the first Hawaiians arrived by canoe. Today, as a
result of ethnic preferences and the abundance and diversity of high quality seafood products,
Hawaii’s consumers eat twice as much seafood as the U.S. per capita national average. This Buyers’
Guide was prepared to aid potential buyers and consumers of Hawaii’s seafood products in their
selection and preparation.
This Guide focuses only on the most popular and available species. Many other Hawaiian species
are as versatile in their uses and just as good tasting, but unfortunately, their supplies are limited.
Even supplies of most of the more abundant species fluctuate seasonally, and during the off-season,
substitution is often necessary. Seasonality in landings of the species included in this Guide are
summarized in Table 1.
To the uninitiated buyer, prices for fresh seafood from Hawaii may seem high. Pricing, however, is
directly related to the limited supplies and high demand for island fish and the willingness of buyers
to pay a premium for the higher product grades. General indicators of quality in Hawaiian fish are
summarized in Table 2, which was adapted from material originally presented in “The Seafood
Handbook” published by Seafood Business.
There are two principle factors which contribute to high quality in Hawaii’s seafood products: (a) the
sale of a large percentage of the islands’ seafood harvest at auctions where there is an opportunity
for visual inspection of quality and competitive bidding; and, (b) the demand of the sashimi market in
which fish are purchased to be eaten raw by very discriminating consumers.
Hawaii’s Fish Auctions
Fish auctions represent one of several possible marketing avenues open to Hawaii’s commercial
fishermen. Other options are to contract with buyers at set prices (as often occurs in continental U.S.
fisheries) or to sell their own catch, either individually or through an association. Fish auctions in
Honolulu and Hilo are the only systems in the U.S., other than the Fulton Street Market in New York
and a newly-opened auction in Portland, Maine, set up to allow an inspection of the product prior to
bidding. Hawaii’s fish auctions are characterized by wide daily and seasonal fluctuations in prices
which depend on the current balance of supply and demand; the buyers’ assessment of product
quality; and, other factors. Fish are delivered to the auctions by the fishermen themselves for stor-
age overnight or by the auction companies’ trucks, which meet the larger boats at the dock in the
Tuna caught by long-line are displayed in the round, with wedges or flesh exposed near the tail for
inspection by the buyers. Large tunas not caught by the longline method are displayed with one
lengthwise quarter removed from the whole fish so that the core flesh is fully visible for inspection.
Marlins have their bills removed and the larger fish are halved crosswise to display their flesh. The
tunas and billfish are auctioned first, followed by smaller species (which are displayed in the round),
including bottomfish, reef fish, mackerel species, mahimahi, ono, crab, lobster and occasionally
limpet (a shellfish). After the auctioneer announces the weight and species of the product about to
be sold, he elicits an initial bid from one of the dozen or more fish dealers gathered around him. The
bid is raised (in increments of ten cents or more per pound) until the highest bid is determined. All of
the regular bidders are attuned to upcoming demand from their customers, and the morning trip to