I awoke while it was still dark out, took an energizing shower, got dressed and zipped up my jacket just as I received a text message in perfectly timed fashion: ¨Good Morning. I´m outside.¨
Waiting by the passenger door of his red mini cooper, was Frank. A man I had quickly become friends with during my visit to Hawaii. A few moments later we were en route to the local fish auction located at Pier 38. Let me tell you a little bit about this fish auction…
The United Fishing Agency Honolulu fish auction uses a traditional Japanese system that sells individual fish to the highest bidder. Boats arrive at wee hours of the morning to an 18,000 square foot facility and unload their catch. The fish are received, scaled, weighed, tagged and categorized. Over the years this institution has taught fisherman what to look for, therefore increasing their profits, providing a higher quality product and benefiting the culinary industry and consumer.
The United Fishing Agency keeps a tight rein on the amount of fish allowed to be harvested, ensuring their sustainability. These impressive and thorough methods have reduced risks posed to other marine life and also reduced waste. The United Fishing Agency places a strong emphasis on eating locally and sustainably produced food. They encourage consumers to question the ingredient on their plate. Where did that fish come from? How far did it travel? Is it wild or farmed? Does it have a good flavor? Is it healthy for you?
The auction provides a behind-the-scene ocean-to-plate perspective if you will. Knowledgeable buyers from around the world are up at the crack of dawn ready to find what they need for the day. These individuals must be able to discern quality, texture, fat content and potential shelf life at a moment´s notice. Things move fast in the big cold warehouse that is the United Fishing Agency Honolulu fish auction.
At 5:30am sharp a brass bell is rung and the game begins. Everyone seems so friendly and professional, but the edge can be felt through the chill. Big-eye tuna, swordfish, mahimahi, opah and numerous other fish species are laid out like a feast on ice. Core samples are extracted (a process I found very interesting) to aid buyers in determining the quality of a specimen. Subtleties are exchanged like rapid fire between bidders and the auctioneer.
This incredible orchestra is run in humbling efficiency by a man named Brooks Takenaka. I had the pleasure of not only meeting him by also being escorted through the whole process by a man who knows it better than I know my local bus route (which is extremely well for the record). Mr. Takenaka has a kind face, eyes that show he is constantly thinking on his feet, a wise smile and a manner that speaks of a passionate man with depth of character. A marine biologist and man-in-charge at the auction, he is quick to reply and quite candid. If you doubt this for even a second, I highly recommend asking him his opinion on sport fishing.
My entourage included my friend Frank, who busily snapped photos with his smart phone, a KCC chef by the name of Alan Tsuchiyama who served as a wonderful guide and source of information and a student of the culinary arts at KCC who was equally amazed as I at the things we saw around us.
Visiting the fish auction in Honolulu was without a doubt one of my favorite 3 things I did during my visit. Brooks Takenaka is my kind of guy and the United Fishing Agency knows what they are doing and they do it right. The best part of the entire experience is walking away with a newfound appreciation for all the effort and care that goes into the dish you eat afterwards.
Until next time dear readers…