Go fish: Stores prepared for New Year’s ahi run

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Let the annual ahi rush begin.

Let the annual ahi rush begin.

It’s that time of year when Hawaii Island residents begin their traditional quest to fill their bellies with fresh, firm, tasty ahi tuna, thereby securing good luck for the new year. And in response to the demand, East Hawaii suppliers and fishermen are hard at work to meet the need.

“I don’t even have time to look up (right now),” said Michael Tominaga, seafood manager at Sack N Save’s Puainako location in Hilo. “We just keep on working. I know we’re going to have our whole crew working (today). We’ll start first thing in the morning and go all day. No other day beats New Year’s Eve, or really even New Year’s week.”

Bone-in ahi chunks will be selling for $6.99 a pound, with sashimi-grade blocks going for $21.99 a pound, he said.

By Wednesday, the store no longer was accepting pre-orders, which were written on slips of paper and plastered on the walls in the seafood department.

“It’s the only time we see orders all over the place like this,” Tominaga said with a laugh.

Suisan Fish Market Division Manager Kyle Sumner said he started to see big yellowfin tuna coming in on boats close to Christmas.

“It’s starting to get even heavier today,” he said Wednesday morning. “We’re starting to see some big ones coming in, between 180 and 200 pounds. And we’ve got bigeyes coming in from local boats, which are unloading today. We probably unloaded 15,000 pounds (of ahi) over the last few days.”

Sumner said prices aren’t much higher at Suisan compared to past years. Medium sashimi fillets are going for $18 a pound, and the larger fillets are selling for $25 a pound.

“We’ll do some blocks, too, cuts of the smaller fish, for about $30 a pound,” he said.

Meanwhile, bone-in chunk tuna will sell for $8 a pound.

“Those have a bone in the center and tend not to be used for sashimi. It’s mostly used for poke,” he said.

KTA Super Stores at Puainako also was ramping up Wednesday for the ahi crush expected to hit when the store opens its doors at 5:30 a.m. today, said Cathy Moon, the meat department manager.

“We’re booked solid (with pre-orders),” she said. “We’re telling people to come in early (this morning). We’ll be doing an overnighter (Wednesday night) making a lot of sashimi platters and shrimp platters. As soon as the store opens, we’ll have an abundance, but it will go fast.”

Moon said she was unwilling to quote prices for ahi, as they could change by this morning, but said ahi poke was selling for $15.97 a pound Wednesday, fillets were selling for $16.99 a pound and chunk tuna was selling for $15.99 a pound.

“Prices were a lot cheaper last year,” she said. “Poke was selling for $12.97 last year.”

Sumner called the Tribune-Herald later in the day Wednesday to report that Suisan had just sold out of its redfish, also known as onaga, which is especially popular with the Japanese community in Hawaii.

“It’s a Japanese tradition to eat redfish for good luck in the new year,” he said.

However, there still will be plenty of ahi, he added.

“We’re not gonna have much space to keep anything else. There will be so much ahi, the entire case (in the storefront) will be full of ahi poke.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.