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Hawaiian Tuna: How does ahi get from ocean to poke bowl?

Everyone loves poke, but who knows where it comes from and what it takes to get the staple ingredient from the ocean to the poke bowl? If you’re using imported tuna the answer is that it could be from anywhere and has likely passed through a difficult to trace chain of custody. But if you’re sourcing real Hawaiian tuna loins from Hawaiian Fresh Seafood we can tell you exactly where and how it’s caught and everything else you’d ever want to know about the ocean-to-table process.

Cutting tuna loins for restaurant wholesale

When the boats in our fleet go out fishing, they leave from Honolulu’s Pier 38 and head to where the fish are. This can sometimes be just a day away and at other times be several hundred miles from home. Because we operate our own fleet of vessels we are in total control of where we go and how long we stay out. This is important because once that first fish is landed, the clock is ticking and as we all know fish don’t stay fresh forever. Other boats will stay out trying to maximize their trip volume, but we always keep our trips short to maximize the quality of our catch.

hawaiian fresh seafood fleet at pier 38 honolulu

Landing The Tuna

A typical day of fishing starts with the crew putting the hooks in the water. When the sun comes up, our captains and crew bait each hook and set the line deep in the water column. We’ll then let it “soak” and give the fish a chance to bite. The action starts around sunset when we start hauling the hooks in. It usually takes all night to retrieve the gear and if we’re lucky, we’ll have some fish to show for the effort. We know we’ve got a fish on when the line gets tight and the whole crew has to work together to get it on the boat. Quality assurance begins while the fish is still on the line as the crew have to avoid damaging the loins by using well placed gaffs to fish’s head.

gaffing tuna aboard hawaiian fresh seafood vessel

Every Fish Gets Some T.L.C.

While boarding a tuna might be the most physically demanding aspect of the process, it’s how that fish is cared for once on the boat that determines the impression it’ll make on the dinner plate. Each fish is subdued immediately upon boarding as it’s bled and spiked. The next step is to remove the tuna’s gills and inner organs and to flush it with salt water. A thorough cleaning is essential to maintaining quality on ice and our crew know that shortcuts on this end do not pay off in the long run.

The Science of Icing the Catch

Within minutes of being caught, our tuna are packed with ice and placed belly up in the hold. It can take up to 24 hours for the core temperature to get down to that of the ice so it’s really important to pack and repack every fish that we catch. Failure to do this results in what’s known as the igloo effect where the fish will melt the ice around it and maintain a higher temperature than the surroundings.

icing fresh tuna below deck on a fishing trip

The Offload

tuna are offloaded one by one after a hawaii longline trip

The minute our boats hit the dock the offload begins. A 14 fishing-day trip will yield several thousand pounds of tuna and we get right to work loading it into refrigerated trucks and bringing it to our facility located less than a mile away. These are big days for us and as each fish is unloaded, we grade it, weigh it, and assign it a unique barcode that allows us to track it in our inventory. At the same time we’re taking core temperatures to make sure every fish has been kept cold and these are tracked temperatures are recorded as well.

from ocean to table hawaiian seafood

From Our Boats To Your Table

The fish that comes off our boats is headed to our chefs and restaurants within hours, sometimes minutes of being processed. Our sales team sends an order downstairs, the appropriate fish is pulled from our cold storage, cut to order, vacuum sealed, packed in our specially designed cold boxes and shipped out with gel packs that will maintain temperature for up to 3 days. When our customers receive their package, they are the first ones to handle it that aren’t wearing the Hawaiian Fresh Seafood logo on their shirt. These fish were caught by us, processed by us, and shipped to you by us. It’s the next best thing to catching it yourself. And so next time someone asks you where the tuna in their poke comes from, you can tell them your friends at Hawaiian Fresh Seafood caught it, you can tell them how we handle our fish, and that when it comes to quality and freshness, it doesn’t get any better.

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