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But it’s a sale that goes on almost daily down on Oahu’s Pier 38….
If you don’t mind getting up about 4am (I do!), getting your coffee to go, rummaging for a long sleeve jacket out of the back of the closet, and pulling on waterproof footwear – well then it’s pretty fun to see a fast-paced auction where the items sold have only been out of the ocean for a few hours, and every minute counts in assuring freshness for the buyer. I have friends who have made the trip down to the pier to watch and photograph all the activity, and this is why my group wanted to go.
I read that the auction officially starts at 5:30 sharp with the ringing of a bell, but we were late and missed that part. Parking is easy, right along the harbor front, in a main building of the Honolulu Fishing Village. We had called ahead to tell them that there would be 4 in our group (although I’m not sure that is really necessary) and my friend says the man who answered sounded thrilled to know we were coming down. As we entered the building, you had to step in a sanitizing food bath, and then a second. Then you grab the jacket from your hand to put it on in the room that’s kept at 38 degrees. Then I took a look around, and everywhere there was fish, ice and bidders. And I have to say that all the bidders and the employees there were exceptionally nice and accommodating – and we were the ones who occasionally got in the way – but no worries’, smiles were all around us.
The auction itself is a quieter affair that I expected. The auctioneer was quiet spoken, and the buyers hardly spoke, using colored cards tossed down as their marker for which fish they purchased. A worker would then immediately tag the fish with the price and name of the purveyor that bought it. What I noticed is that the buyer’s choices were scattered – one fish here, two there, then back again. Every fish had been previously graded, with pieces cut out for a visual warranty of what’s under the skin. I saw little thin strips too, and wondered if those were for sampling. As pallets of fish sold, they were taken outside to the appropriate refrigerated truck, and then more pallets were brought into the auction for more sales. I asked one worker if all the fish would sell, and he said sure’. Then I asked if he thought it would all get eaten. He hesitated just a second, and then said he figured it would. After all, sushi is huge here, found in almost every establishment that sells food. And it’s nice to know it all just came out of the water.
Video: the auction at work
From the materials we were given put out by the Hawaii Seafood Council (under the auspices of NOAA) it seems clear that overharvesting is at a minimum, with a goals of exemplary management’ and sustainability of resources. Hawaii considers itself a model system for responsible fishing of the Pacific Ocean. Compliance to rules that help minimize sea turtle losses is high, and the organization seems very proud of its high score for the Code of Conduct. I don’t find this surprising, given that Island living is very special. We are all we have and we need to protect it. The seafood here is known worldwide for its quality and to quote their pamphlet “Honolulu ranked 38th by weight of fish landed among US ports, but ranked 4th in terms of landed value.”