Honolulu Fish Auction
The Honolulu Fish Auction offers complete guided tours which is the best way to follow and understand the complex process of getting
a fish from the boat to the buyer. It was too late to take the tour this trip, so in Hawaiian style, the cousin of a cousin phoned a friend
who invited us to join him there the next morning. We never found the friend, but workers and buyers at the auction were very welcoming
and talked with us until the auction began. When we started putting together these pictures, we realized we had many more questions.
We visited the Honolulu Fish Auction on January 22, 2016. The floor in the United Fishing
Agency building was filled with fish that just had been unloaded, inspected, weighed and tagged.
At 5 am there were only workers there, but most buyers came before the auction started at 05.30.
One of the more than 100 fishing vessels that mainly work with longline fishing. The boats are
out about three weeks. In Hawaii fishing is about sustainability and resource management. There
is a 50 nautical mile fishing exclusion zone around Hawaii. This site shows where the fleet works.
Only US flagged vessels may fish within a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, but the boats follow US regulations outside the zone.
Boats fishing swordfish must always have federal observers on board. Boats fishing tuna have observers on board more than 20% of the time.
The fish are unloaded directly from the vessels into the auction building.
Each fish is weighed, inspected, marked with a color tag identifying the boat that
caught it. It then gets another bar code tag with boat, type of fish, weight, ID number.
All information is recorded as the fish comes in. This machine prints the tag with bar code.
The fish are put on pallets. The yellow tags show they came from the same boat.
Opah or moonfish. It is very difficult to estimate the weight of the gutted fish. The bar code
tag shows this fish was caught by Capt Millions III (CM III), is an Opah and weighs 130 lb.
There is a lot more information on the tag including the fish’s individual ID number.
Two pieces are cut out at the tail of these Ahi tuna for the buyers to inspect.
The man who cuts samples with his equipment in his boot.
We do not understand how buyers decide the price they are willing to pay, but color, texture and fat content are important.
Another quality control is to take a core sample of meat from the tuna.
The meat “core” is placed on a piece of paper. Note the green tags to identify the boat, Sea Dragon II.
Mahimahi on a pallet. The pink labels show that these were caught by another boat.
The tags with numbers show the weight in pounds of the fish.
The number 1 indicates that this single fish weighs 99 lb. It is an Ahi caught by CM III. The tag also has fish ID number and much more.
A smaller Albacore tuna has only one tail sample cut. The green tag is Sea Dragon II (SDR II)
The auction starts at 05.30 sharp. The man in a red jacket was the first of three auctioneers. More buyers arrived, and more fish were brought in.
The auctioneer writes the agreed price on paper and put it on the fish. The buyer adds his ID.
Buyers inspect the sample as one factor in deciding how much they should bid.
The auction goes very fast and it is a mystery for an outsider to see who bids and how much.
The only sound is the numbers rattled off by the auctioneer who suddenly stops and writes on his pad.
The man to the left took over as auctioneer. He writes the agreed price on a label. He has to
be very attentive to bidders hand movements, which is impossible for an outsider to see.
The man to the left follows after and makes a new bar code label with the total to pay
(weight x bid price) and name of the winning bidder. The label is then put on the fish.
Another man follows to record everything.
All labels are clipped together and attached to the fish. This 176 lb blue
marlin (A’u) was bought by U. Okada & Co at a price of $ 2.50 per pound.
Everything is photographed.
There is a board with information about fishing vessels and the type of fishing they have done.
To the left of some boat names is written Pau which means they have off-loaded their catch.
The price can be very different depending on the quality.
Fishing is very regulated, and none of the pelagic fish population is over fished.
Hebi, or Short billed spearfish. The bills are not worth anything and have been removed.
As soon as the fish has been auctioned, it is taken out to delivery trucks. The fishermen are
paid for their catch that afternoon. The administration is computerized and seems very efficient.
Loading the trucks an hour after the auction started. All fish are scanned as they leave the building.
Around 30 % of the fish are consumed locally, the rest goes to the mainland and Japan.
We were given this very informative brochure at the auction, from Hawaii Seafood Council.
Next door to the auction house is Nico’s restaurant which is open for early bird eaters.
One alternative is to buy some fish and follow the recipes in this cookbook by Ben Wong.