More Ahi, Please*

Travel Blog  •  Pam Mandel  •  05.27.09 | 10:25 AM ET

Photo by goochie* via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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.)

Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer from Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in a variety of print, radio, and web publications and she's contributed to two guidebooks, one on British Columbia and one on Hawaii. She plays the ukulele, has an internal beacon that is surprisingly capable of locating the best baked goods in town, almost any town, and speaks German with a Styrian accent. Learn more on her personal blog at Nerd's Eye View.

2 Comments for More Ahi, Please*

US State Parks 05.27.09 | 2:40 PM ET

I like Tuna.It is cheap and tasty.
I think it is one of the most popular fish in the world.

Chrisitna 05.28.09 | 10:37 AM ET

For more information on some of the potential pitfalls of ocean fish farming please see our report Fishy Farms: The Problems with Offshore Aquaculture at and our factsheet on Hawaii Oceanic Technology, Inc.‘s project  As a consumer advocacy organization we want to make sure people have clean, safe and sustainable fish to eat.  This project does not meet those goals which is why we are concerned about it - no matter how tasty the fish may be!

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