Hawaii auction: Chilling with the fishes

IT’S THE ODOR of fresh raw fish you notice first. At 5:30 a.m. in the morning, it’s a jolt to the senses.

Rows of primarily bigeye tuna and broadbill swordfish fill the warehouse at the end of Pier 38 – a scene straight out of any ahi lover’s dreams.

With the ring of a bell, the auction is under way and a crowd gathers around an auctioneer who begins rattling off numbers that steadily increase with each bid until the first fish is sold. The groups move systematically down the line, bidding and buying fish at varying costs. When one pallet of fish is sold, it is removed and replaced with another bearing more fish, while buyers continue throughout the warehouse until each fish has been sold. 

It’s a lively process that repeats itself six days a week.

From all outward appearances, it seems relatively simple. But Honolulu Fish Auction is not all that meets the eye.

“Suffice to say, there’s a lot going on,” says Brooks Takenaka, United Fishing Agency, LTD. assistant general manager.

UFA began Honolulu Fish Auction in 1952. Annually, the facility sells between 26 million and 28 million pounds of seafood; less than 3 percent reaches foreign soil. 

Preparations for each auction begin around midnight, sometimes even earlier, as the first few boats begin unloading. Fish are then cleaned with ozonated water to eliminate bacteria, weighed and processed. After the fish is set up for the auction, it is treated for a second time with ozonated water.

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