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More Ahi Please

You can not pile too much ahi — the Hawaiian name for tuna — on my plate. I love the stuff: raw, grilled, wrapped in rice and nori and served as sushi, marinated in soy and spice and served as poke, crusted with macadamia nuts and coconut and topped with a little mango sauce … I swear I am turning into a big drooling mess just thinking about it.

But overfishing is depleting tuna stocks, just like it’s depleting so many of our dinner-bound, ocean-dwelling populations, driving up the price and making for scarce supply.

A tentative hooray, then, for this proposal to try offshore tuna farming. “If successful,” the AP’s Audrey McAvoy writes, “the startup could blaze the way toward the environmentally sound farming of one of the world’s most in-demand sushi ingredients. But the potential challenges are significant, highlighting the difficulty of relying on farmed fish.”

It’s not a perfect solution — the project is already under scrutiny from fish huggers. Peter Bridson, aquaculture (that’s fish farming to you and me) manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California is concerned about how much fish Hawaii Oceanic would need to feed its livestock. From the AP story:

Tuna is a carnivorous fish, high on the marine food chain, and they must eat large volumes of sardines and other smaller fish to grow. Maintaining a tuna farm may add to the pressures on wild stocks of other fish.

Hawaii Oceanic plans to feed its bigeye fish meal. But fish meal itself is made from ground-up wild fish, and has the potential to pressure wild fish stocks.

“You kind of have to come back to the whole debate on whether these fish are the right thing for us humans to be eating,” said Bridson. “There are lots of other things which have a lower impact in terms of how they are farmed.”

There’s already a fish farm off the Kona coast that grows a trademarked “Kona Kampachi” — yellowtail tuna. But it’s struggling with profitability, and there are also environmental and legal problems, according to this West Hawaii Today report that ran in March of this year.

I’d like to see both operations find a way to be successful and environmentally sound for the most selfish and personal reason: because I’m hungry. Ahi and soy sauce and oh, can I have some of that grilled pineapple salsa, too? Ahi tastes like Hawaii to me and I’m not ready to give it up just yet.

* Update: June 1, 2009, 12:01 p.m.

Two corrections:

1) Yellowtail isn’t a tuna. It’s a cousin to hamachi, in the amberjack family.

2) The Kona Blue project has, so far, proven environmentally sound. Initial studies showed “no significant impact based on several things, including the absence of irrevocable loss or destruction of resources, compliance with the state’s long-term environmental policies encouraging sustainable use of marine resources and preserving water quality.” (Again, from West Hawaii Today.)

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