What’s driving ahi costs up? And when will they go back down?

Local News

HONOLULU(KHON2) — Yellowfin tuna, or ahi, is harder to find right now, and when you do catch it at the market or your favorite poke shop, it is going to cost more– at least for another month or so. There are a number of reasons for the current ahi shortage.

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Whether you like it sashimi style, blackened or with shoyu and onions in your poke, ahi is a local favorite. But according to United Fishing Agency Auction Fishing Manager Mike Goto, “Supply is not meeting the demand.”

“Today’s auction was still a little bit light on volume comparatively to a normal time, pre-COVID. And that’s kind of been the trend lately over the past two or three weeks,” Goto said.

Several factors come into play. The first is that catch rates are typically lower this time of year as ahi move closer to the West Coast–driving up the cost for fishing vessels.

Mike Lee, VP of Sales and Operations of Garden and Valley Isle Seafood, said the added costs of vessels having to travel farther for fish make fishermen think twice about going out.

“Some of the fishermen are staying home cause they want to make sure if they go out, they want to make sure when they come back, they can make enough cash to pay for the trip, pay for the crew, etc.,” explained Lee.

The pandemic also is also hurting the fishing industry in other parts of the world.

“So, the demand for Hawaii ahi is quite strong throughout the Midwest and western United States, including the East Coast as well.”

Leaving even less ahi in the market to go around, and driving the prices up even further.

Add to that Hawaii’s erratic economy, stay-at-home orders and county-wide shutdowns due to COVID-19 making the market unpredictable.

“Where is demand going to come from? Are restaurants going to be open? Is there going to be an extended Hawaii lock-down that keeps dine-in restricted? All those factors come into play in future uncertainty,” said Goto.

The good news is ahi supply generally increases again in October as yellowfin tuna migrate closer to Hawaii, which should bring the prices back down to normal.

But given the way this year has played out so far, there are some concerns.

“Is it going to get worse in the winter? That’s the big question,” said Goto. “Christmas and New Years, that our peak season, peak demand and we have no idea what’s going to happen then.”

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