The Honolulu Fish Auction—an insider’s tour with Dr. John Kaneko

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Tuna boats return to Honolulu Harbor
Tuna Fleet Returns with Fresh Catch at Honolulu Fishing Village Docks. Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer

In the heart of Honolulu Harbor, directly across from the container port, there’s a large, utilitarian, metal building adjacent to the docks at Pier 38 where the long line Tuna boats tie up. It’s five a.m., and we’re waiting outside for the 5:30 bell that announces the commencement of United Fishing Agency’s daily wholesale auction— it’s the only one of its kind between Tokyo and the East Coast.

 Honolulu sunrise from the commercial fishing docks
Honolulu Sunrise from the Honolulu fishing Village:  Photo Credit Tom Wilmer

Buyers from fish markets, restaurants and distributors arrive in their oversized pick-ups. They chew the fat out in the parking lot and then start to amble in. They’re clad in bulky jackets, parkas, and hooded sweatshirts, which seems a bit strange, since it’s a balmy 71 degrees outside and the sun hasn’t even risen yet—But the disconnect is quickly solved when it’s our turn to head inside, where it’s as cold as a winter day in Anchorage.While we wait for the bell to ring, we dodge frenetic forklifts shuttling iced crates bulging with freshly unloaded Big Eye Tuna, Swordfish, Wahoo, Marlin, Albacore and much more. We are queued up next to a three-star Naval Admiral and his associates who have come for first hand tour of the facility that falls under NOAA’s jurisdiction. Dr. John Kaneko, Program Manager with the non-profit Hawaii Seafood steps up and introduces himself and invites us inside for a tour and to watch the auction.

Dr. John Kaneko at Fish Auction
John Kaneko leads tour at the Honolulu Fish Auction.
Iphone image: Tom Wilmer


The Honolulu Fish Auction at Pier 38 was not on my list of things to do and see when I arrived at the Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki, but when Joan Matsumoto who works at the nearby Sheraton, suggested signing up for the tour, I took the advice of a local in the know and I am so glad I did. The experience was a true eye-opener about the nuances of just what makes for truly fresh, first class fish. And the 90-minute educational tour is open to the public, but requires pre-registration on the website. There is a fee of $25/adults and $20/children. Dr. Kaneko explained, “The tour was created to offer visitors a first-hand exposure to Hawaii’s commercial fishery and seafood industry, and gain new perspective on what it takes to catch the fish and to study, monitor and manage the fishery for sustainability. The tour fees help the Hawaii Seafood Council (501c3 non-profit organization) provide out-of-class room learning experience for our culinary arts and marine biology/oceanography students.”

Big Eye Tuna at Honolulu Fish Auction
Buyers inspect Big Eye Tuna at Honolulu Fish Auction. Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer
Fresh Catch at Honolulu Fish Auction
Fresh fish at Honolulu Fish Auction. Photo Credit: Tom WIlmer
Honolulu Fish Auctiion Fresh Catch
Fresh catch at Honolulu Fish Auction. iPhone image- Tom Wilmer
Fish at Honolulu Fish Auction
Fish ready to go at Honolulu Fish Auction. Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer


HNL Fish Auction
Auctioneer at Honolulu Fish Auction