Our food culture is beginning to recognize fish as seasonal, like fruits and vegetables,” says Ashley Watts as she makes her daily deliveries to Honolulu restaurants. “Our customers appreciate that you can’t always get exactly what you want.” During the dry season in Hawai‘i, Local I‘a (i‘a is Hawaiian for fish) customers are likely to receive uku (gray snapper) or aku (skipjack tuna). During the wet season they’ll likely get mahimahi, ‘ōpakapaka (pink snapper) “or whatever is biting,” says Watts.
It borrows from community-supported agriculture, or CSA, in which customers subscribe to a service that delivers seasonal produce weekly from local farms. Local I‘a is a CSF—community-supported fishery—delivering seasonal seafood to restaurants and individuals along with date of catch, the fisherman to thank and suggested recipes. The company doesn’t source from commercial longliners; longline catch is sold at Honolulu’s fish auction, then passed through a series of distributors before becoming poke at a market or plated in a restaurant. Local I‘a grew from Watts’ desire to get fish directly to consumers while supporting small-scale fishermen. When Watts was a federal observer on longline vessels, “I became friends with fishermen,” she says, “and saw how they didn’t always get a fair price for their catch.”
It remains legal to sell seafood directly to consumers in Hawai‘i. Stylish restaurants buy most of Local I‘a’s fish, but anyone on O‘ahu can subscribe for $25 per week to receive four to six servings of fish. “I need to produce 120 pounds of fish by every Thursday, and the demand is rising,” Watts says. The ideal time to consume seafood is three to four days after it’s caught, which is usually about a day after Local I‘a subscribers pick up their orders at one of eight locations on O‘ahu. By comparison, the average tuna fillet in the grocery store is two weeks old. “Our setup is much simpler,” says Watts. “Your meal goes from the dock to the distributor to you.”