Ahi lovers could face a price hike for fresh sashimi and poke next year because of a proposal that would slice the bigeye tuna limit for Hawaii's longline fleet. The overfishing of bigeye tuna is a problem across the Pacific Ocean. The issue is managed at an international level, and the U.S. is hoping to keep the current quota in place.
Customers at Nico's Pier 38 line up daily for fresh fish. The restaurant buys about 10,000 pounds of ahi a month from the nearby fish auction. The news of a possible bigeye quota reduction for Hawaii's longline fleet is troubling.
"Less fish means more expensive fish so the demand is going to go higher for less fish and the price is going to go up so everyone is going to be affected price-wise, and also no product in the market," said owner Nico Chaize.
The current quota, which was set in 2008, is nearly 3,763 metric tons. One proposal calls for a limit of 2,300 metric tons, which is roughly a 37% reduction.
"What that would mean is potentially we're closing our fishery in July and having no bigeye and that would be just hard to accept," said Michael Tosatto, regional administrator for the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service.
"We've adhered to that quota consistently over the years. Unfortunately, that's not true of all the various countries and different fisheries so what we would like to see is a level playing field," said Sean Martin, president of the Hawaii Longline Association.
Concerns about overfishing led to the international recommendation that came out of a Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) working group meeting in August. Local experts, however, suggest new restrictions on the purse seine fishery which uses big nets and buoys.
"In the course of taking skipjack tuna, they take a growing amount of bigeye, and they're taking juvenile bigeye and it's having an impact on the stock" explained Tosatto.
If Hawaii's quota is cut, customers could end up paying the price if they're hooked on ahi.
"So a plate lunch would cost you $25," said Chaize. "But I don't want to serve any frozen fish or import fish because that's not what we're all about."
The future of the fishery is being discussed by the Scientific and Statistical Committee at a meeting from Oct. 8 to 10 in Honolulu. Suggestions from the committee will be taken up by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council from Oct. 16 to 18. The council will provide the U.S. government with recommendations. A decision by the WCPFC on Hawaii's quota is expected in December.