Current Weather
The Spy FM

Wake Up And Smell The Tuna? Sunrise At Honolulu’s Fish Auction

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
May 7, 2013

If you are up at 5 in the morning in Honolulu and are wondering what to do, I have a suggestion: Head over to Pier 38 and watch the Honolulu Fish Auction. It’s quite a scene.

Getting up at 5 may seem a bit extreme, but for recent arrivals to Hawaii from the East Coast of the mainland — as I was last Friday — the six-hour time difference makes waking up early easy, if not inevitable.

The auction takes place in a low-slung single story building toward the end of the pier. Starting at about 1 a.m., fishing boats start bringing in their catch. Each fish is tagged, placed on pallets, and covered with crushed ice. Most of the fish are caught using a longline fishing technique: baited hooks hanging at intervals from a long rope. Brooks Takenaka, one of the guys who runs the auction, says it’s all highly regulated and that sustainability is a top concern.

The day I visited, there were about 50,000 pounds of fish on the auction floor. There’s a pretty wide selection … from the large bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) and broadbill swordfish (Xiphias gladius) to the smaller mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) and ono (Acanthocybium solandri). I stick in the scientific names, because the same fish can have a lot of different common names. Ono is also called wahoo, and mahi-mahi is sometimes referred to as dolphin fish.

At approximately 5:30 a.m. Pacific, one of the auctioneers rings a brass bell, and a crowd of about two dozen buyers clusters around a pallet as an auctioneer calls out prices. To the uninitiated it’s a little hard to follow, but clearly, someone is making a successful purchase. Prices vary by species, time of year and quality of fish. The day I visited, some of the tunas were going for $8 per pound or more.

The group moves fairly rapidly from one pallet to the next, while a trailing worker tags each fish with the name of its buyer. Once that’s completed, other workers swoop in with the hand powered fork lifts and start distributing the fish to trucks waiting at multiple loading docks alongside the building. Most of this haul will be eaten in the Hawaiian islands, though a sizable fraction will head to the mainland. It can take hours to complete the auction, depending on the size of the day’s catch.

After standing on the chilly auction floor for about 45 minutes, I realized something was missing: the smell of fish. Really fresh fish doesn’t smell the least bit fishy. I guess I knew that, but it’s still remarkable to experience.

Though it’s been around since 1952, the auction isn’t a tourist attraction. But if you’re interested in visiting, call the Hawaii Seafood Council and they’ll see what they can do. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center