Explore Honolulu retail seafood pricing trends

By Justin Hospital

A new PIFSC report provides a summary of retail (consumer-level) fish price data collected from Honolulu seafood markets during 2007–2011. This represents one of the first efforts to explore consumer price trends in the State of Hawaii. A small sample of local seafood retailers were selected for participation in the monitoring program. These included owners, operators or representatives of local seafood outlets and both local and remotely-owned grocery stores and supermarkets. Retailers were visited on a weekly basis and posted price data were collected for fish species and product forms common in the marketplace. Observations regarding country of origin labeling practices were documented in conjunction with pricing.

The goal of this study was to advance a preliminary understanding of:

  • the prevalence of local species and product forms in Honolulu retail fish markets;
  • price differentials and value-added benefits across the seafood value chain;
  • consumer demand for various fish species;
  • the role of imports in the Hawaii seafood market

Data summaries in the report include:

  • retail market presence/absence estimates;
  • weekly retail price averages by species, product form and origin;
  • monthly time series for retail prices;
  • annual retail price spreads (difference between prices consumers pay and the price fishers receive)

These summaries are available for many species, families and product forms common in Hawaii markets including tuna, bottomfish, reef fish, and pelagic species (non-tuna).

An understanding of market composition, consumer demand for species and product forms, and the cultural importance of different species can be inferred from market presence-absence findings

Price differentials across the value chain shed light on consumer demand and value-added benefits attributed to consumer-level seafood products


The findings of this research have important implications for considering consumer-level effects of fisheries management as well as seafood security for Hawaii communities.

Retail price comparisons across species provide insights into the dynamics of market demand and consumer preferences

Aggregate price data at the retail and ex-vessel level can mask species-specific pricing dynamics which are important for monitoring considerations

Results from this project are available in a variety of formats:

  • Explore the data collected and summarized in the report through an online interactive visualization tool
  • Click to download a fact sheet
  • The full report is available for download here

For more information about this research or other research from the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program visit our website or browse recent blog posts.

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Humpback Whales in the Marianas

by Marie Hill, Allan Ligon, Adam Ü, and Amanda Bradford

The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s Cetacean Research Program returned to Saipan in the Marianas during February-March 2015 to look for humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).  We have known that they occur there during winter/spring months (December-April) from accounts by local fisherman and dive operators, from a sighting at Marpi Reef during a 2007 shipboard survey of the Guam/CNMI EEZ, and from recordings from our passive acoustic devices on the seafloor off Saipan and Tinian.  We surveyed in the waters off Saipan, Tinian, and Guam in February 2010 and again in April 2014, but didn’t find any humpbacks.

We didn’t know exactly what to expect this time except for the rough sea conditions that typically occur during winter months in the Marianas.  We started out by looking for humpback whale blows from an elevated shore station on the west side of Saipan (Figure 1).

Figure 1_shore station

Figure 1: Looking for humpback whale blows from our shore station on the west side of Saipan. (Photo credit: Allan Ligon)

We had heard previous accounts of humpbacks swimming relatively close to shore outside of the lagoon and outer reef off the west side of the island.  While we were initially setting up our shore station, we spotted a breaching whale several miles offshore.  We knew then that we were in luck, and our timing was right!  We found humpbacks every day we went out on the water for a small-boat survey (Figure 2).

Figure 2_photographing humpbacks

Figure 2: On the water, we initially spotted each humpback whale in the distance by their blows. We then approached them to collect photographs and biopsy samples when possible. (Photo credit: Adam Ü)

It quickly became clear to us that the place to be was on Chalan Kanoa (CK) Reef (a.k.a. Double Reef or 6-Mile Reef) due to its relatively easy access from the harbor and regular whale presence.  All but two of our humpback whale sightings were over CK Reef (Figure 3).  Unfortunately, we were unable to effectively survey other areas around Saipan/Tinian due to the poor sea conditions.

Figure 3_Marianas 2015 winter sightings

Figure 3: Cetacean and whale shark sightings. Black line represents 100-m depth contour around the islands and CK Reef.

During the eight days that we were on the water, we saw four mom/calf pairs (Figure 4).  We saw two of the four pairs over multiple days and collected biopsy samples from three of the moms.


Figure 4: Humpback whale mom/calf pair no. 3 photographed on 6 March 2015. We collected a biopsy sample from the mom. (Photo credit: Amanda Bradford)

The presence of moms with small calves suggests that the waters off western Saipan and likely adjacent areas may be a breeding area for humpback whales.  Research on humpbacks in the North Pacific has demonstrated that these whales feed during the summer off the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Canada, and Russia.  During the fall and winter, they travel as far as 3,000 miles south to mate and calve in warmer waters.  The known North Pacific breeding grounds are off Mexico, the Hawaiian Islands, the southern islands of Japan, and the northern islands of the Philippines.  Exactly where our humpbacks came from is a mystery.  We hope that genetic analyses from the biopsy samples we collected will help to inform us.

In addition to the mom/calf pairs, we confirmed with photographs that there were four other non-calf individuals on the reef, bringing the total number of documented whales to 12.  There may have been more than 12 whales using the area, but because of difficult whale behavior (e.g., long dive times, fast travel) and rough sea conditions, we weren’t able to get close enough to take photos of every whale sighted.  Only two individuals showed their flukes (Figure 5), which are used as primary identifiers for individual humpback whales.  These individuals could possibly be matched to humpbacks within existing photo-identification catalogs from other parts of the Pacific.


Figure 5: The “tail-end” of the flukes of a humpback whale photographed over CK Reef (Saipan) on 7 March 2015. (Photo credit: Amanda Bradford)

Although humpbacks were our primary focus, we were also hoping to see other cetacean species.  Because the sea conditions were so poor (mostly Beaufort sea states 5-6 and 6-8 ft swells), we had little chance of seeing anything except large whales unless other species came to us.  We got lucky and had a single bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) approach our boat to bow ride for a few minutes while we were following a humpback mom/calf pair.  Several days later, we saw a group of six pygmy killer whales (Feresa attenuata) that were swimming around and along with two adult humpback whales that appeared to be socializing.  Unfortunately, we were unable to collect any individual catalog-ID photos or biopsy samples from either the bottlenose dolphin or pygmy killer whales because of the conditions and our focus on the humpbacks. However, we did collect a fourth biopsy sample from one of the humpbacks with the pygmy killer whales.

As if finding humpback whales wasn’t good enough, we were incredibly lucky to see two different juvenile whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) a couple days apart (Figure 6).  This was a lifetime first for most of us!  The whale shark is the largest living fish and can grow to 40 ft. in length.  We found that whale sharks are easier to work with than whales.  They were very interested in our vessel and swam closely around it, providing us with the opportunity to record some close-up footage from our pole-mounted video camera.  We could have spent hours with them, but remembering that we are whale biologists we had to break away.

Figure 6_Whale shark 2

Figure 6: Open mouth of a juvenile whale shark off Saipan/Tinian. (Photo credit: Adam Ü)

This research was conducted under NMFS permit 15240 and CNMI DFW license no. 03086-2015 issued to PIFSC CRP. Funding was provided by PIFSC and U.S. Pacific Fleet.  We would like to thank those individuals and organizations that provided us logistical support, including Mike Trianni (PIFSC CNMI), Eric Cruz (PIFSC Guam), Steve McKagan (PIRO CNMI), Erik Norris (PIFSC JIMAR), the CNMI DFW, Sam Markos, Ben Sablan, Fred Guzman, and Aesha Sablan (owner, captains, and crew of the Sea Hunter), and the Hyatt Regency.

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Visualizing the market for ahi tuna in Hawaii: tracking supply and demand characteristics over time

By Kolter Kalberg and Dawn Kotowicz

The majority of commercial landings for domestically caught ahi (bigeye and yellowfin tuna) sold in Hawaii go through the United Fishing Agency (UFA) auction. An auction setting, such as UFA, is often an effective means of quickly reaching short-term price equilibrium in a market characterized by volatile supply and varying degrees of quality for a perishable product – both of which typify the Hawaii ahi market.

In this post, a time-lapse week over day snapshot of the market is presented to depict certain market characteristics  and dynamics that exist between commercial ahi fishers, ‘the supply’, and wholesale buyers, ‘the demand’. Besides the total quantity landed, there are many other market drivers that influence the ex-vessel price of ahi that are difficult to capture independently. Such factors include the quality of ahi, individual fish size, and buyers’ proclivity, just to name a few.

By clicking on the video link below, the relationship among some of these factors can be observed through a graphical visualization of Hawaii’s ahi market using daily data between 2010-2014.

Key notes regarding the animated video

  • The top half of the animated graph is a calculated using a moving sum of a seven day period.
  • The bottom portion animates the average daily price for the four fish size groups and the average daily price (black line) of all fish along with a trend (red line) accounting for the variations of several statistically significant cycles, such as seasonality and lunar effects (for smoothing resolution of the line, weekly variations were not included in the trend.)
  • The Weight by Price density graph has a y-axis that is approximately linear from zero to 15,000 lbs. and then increases in a geometrically declining rate. The scale was modified to include the full range of the data without periodic adjustment to the scale.
  • Prices are represented as the price per unit of weight (lbs.) and not per fish, since individual fish weights varies significantly. However, average price per pound (bottom graph) is the weighted average by number of fish for comparison.

Social science research on the Hawaii tuna market provides evidence that fish dealers buying fish from the auction show preferences for different size and quality, depending on a dealers’ market niche. Related research has found that demand fluctuates with the seasons and certain holidays. These variations occur not only in the total market quantity but also the quality and size per individual fish landed. While average supplies over the course of a week or month are relatively stable, day-to-day supplies are quite variable as is price.

For more information about other research from the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program visit our website or browse recent blog posts

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Science and technology innovations to promote sustainable fisheries in Southeast Asia and the Coral Triangle

By Kelvin Gorospe

S&T ReportBack in November 2013, Drs. Rusty Brainard and Kelvin Gorospe of PIFSC’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) along with colleagues from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and Office of Law Enforcement met with officials from USAID-Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Among one of the priorities identified during that meeting was to combine the expertise of NOAA and DOI to develop recommendations for how science and technology (S&T) innovations could be harnessed to promote sustainable trans-boundary fisheries in Southeast Asia and the Coral Triangle.

The week after that meeting, Rusty and Kelvin continued to Penang, Malaysia to attend the 36th Program Committee Meeting of the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC). The meeting was attended by delegates from the 11 member countries of SEAFDEC (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and focused on a review of ongoing SEAFDEC fisheries research and management activities in the region.

Fishing boats docked in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Supin Wongbusarakum

Fishing boats docked in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Supin Wongbusarakum

A core group of NOAA and DOI S&T experts were then tasked with developing a survey to collect expert opinion across both agencies. NOAA’s International Affairs Council and the DOI’s International Technical Assistance Program distributed the survey across both agencies. The survey asked participants to provide their opinions on how S&T can be harnessed to integrate information throughout the seafood supply chain as well as meet the management needs at discreet points along the chain (pre-catch, point-of-catch, point-of-processing/packaging, and point-of-purchase/consumption).

Seafood Supply Chain

Fish market in Bangkok, Thailand.  Photo by Supin Wongbusarakum

Fish market in Bangkok, Thailand.
Photo by Supin Wongbusarakum

Guided by USAID-RDMA’s request, contextualized by SEAFDEC’s needs and capacities, and informed by the opinions of experts across both NOAA and DOI, the report entitled, “Science and technology to promote sustainable fisheries in Southeast Asia and the Coral Triangle” is now complete and ready for distribution. The report is authored by Kelvin D. Gorospe and Supin Wongbusarakum of PIFSC’s CRED and University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research; Keith Chanon, Patrick Lynch, and William L. Michaels of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Science and Technology; and Christopher D. Elvidge of the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service’s National Geophysical Data Center.

To come full circle, the report is also set to be distributed at the upcoming 47th meeting of the SEAFDEC Council in Bangkok, Thailand, which will be attended by senior fisheries officials from all ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States, as well as Drs. Rusty Brainard and Supin Wongbusarakum of PIFSC CRED and Angelina Stella from NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement.

The full report can be downloaded from the NOAA PIFSC Library online here.

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Scientists complete coral reef ecosystem monitoring work around the U.S. Phoenix Islands

By Kelvin Gorospe

The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) recently completed the Phoenix Islands portion of their Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) research cruise. The areas they surveyed included: Johnston Atoll, Howland Island, and Baker Island. All three islands are part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which is co-managed by NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), as well as the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the USFWS. These areas are among the most remote locations under U.S. jurisdiction and offer a unique opportunity to study and better understand coral reef ecosystems removed from direct human impacts.

Figure 1: Launching and recovering teams of scientists from NOAA R/V Hi‘ialakai. Photo credit Kelvin Gorospe.

Figure 1: Launching and recovering teams of scientists from NOAA R/V Hi‘ialakai. Photo credit Kelvin Gorospe.

Figure 2: Group photo of scientific divers on the fantail of the ship. Photo credit Jim Bostick.

Figure 2: Group photo of scientific divers on the fantail of the ship. Photo credit Jim Bostick.

During the expedition, small boats were launched from NOAA ship Hi‘ialakai carrying teams of scientists to survey reef fishes, benthic and microbial communities, and study the effects of ocean acidification and warming on reef ecosystems (Fig 1). A total of 17 scientific divers, one data manager, and two terrestrial biologists participated in operations (Fig 2). For the U.S. Phoenix Islands portion of the cruise, fish data are highlighted below. Blog posts from the upcoming legs of this 103-day research expedition will highlight information from other reef assessment surveys.

Over the course of 13 diving days, the fish team surveyed a total of 102 rapid ecological assessment (REA) sites (31 at Johnston Atoll, 35 at Howland Island, and 36 at Baker Island). The team used a stratified random survey design, whereby the reefs around each island are divided into three depth zones (0-6 m; 6-18 m; and 18-30 m) and the total number of sites surveyed in each depth zone is proportionate to the total amount of reef area found in that depth zone. Site locations are then spatially randomized around the island. Click here for more details on the methodology of fish REA surveys.

Figure 3: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Howland Island.

Figure 3: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Howland Island.

Figure 4: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Baker Island.

Figure 4: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Baker Island.

At Howland and Baker Islands, the subsurface eastward-flowing Equatorial Undercurrent encounters the submerged portions of these undersea mountains to create areas of intense upwelling of nutrient-rich waters that help sustain high biomasses of reef fishes. This is clearly shown in the bubble plots above (Fig 3 and Fig 4), depicting high levels of fish biomass around both islands. Each circle on the graph is centered on a dive site.

Figure 5: Manta rays swimming through a fish survey at Howland Island. Photo credit Louise Giuseffi.

Figure 5: Manta rays swimming through a fish survey at Howland Island. Photo credit Louise Giuseffi.

Figure 6: Fish REA diver collecting data on fish species ID, sizes, and abundance at Johnston Atoll. Photo credit Louise Giuseffi.

Figure 6: Fish REA diver collecting data on fish species ID, sizes, and abundance at Johnston Atoll. Photo credit Louise Giuseffi.

Among other large-bodied species, schools of manta rays were frequently reported around both Howland and Baker Islands (Fig 5). At each site, two fish divers collected replicate data on the sizes and numbers of fish species that swam through their survey area over the course of five minutes (Fig 6). The size of the circle is proportionate to the calculated total biomass of fish (g per m2) at each site. These graphs demonstrate the high reef fish biomasses in these upwelling areas of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Figure 7: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Johnston Atoll.

Figure 7: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Johnston Atoll.

In contrast, Johnston Atoll, which doesn’t experience this strong upwelling of nutrients (Fig 7), sustains lower levels of reef fish biomass than Howland and Baker. However, its importance is highlighted by the fact that it is known to be an important genetic stepping stone between the central Pacific and the Hawaiian Islands, maintaining evolutionary connectivity between these areas. During our time at Johnston on this cruise, CRED scientists spotted three coral species (Acropora speciosa, Acropora retusa, and Pavona diffluens) recently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In addition, CRED scientists reported frequent sightings of overturned Acropora table corals and observed that much of the coral on the northwest side of the atoll experienced recent damage, likely as a result of the large ocean swell from the northwest that came through as we were leaving Oahu at the end of January. Protection of these areas from the degrading effects of fishing and extraction is important to ensuring that the reef can recover from natural environmental impacts such as these large ocean swell events.

The CRED team will remain at sea until May 3, 2015, continuing to conduct coral reef ecosystem monitoring surveys throughout American Samoa (Tutuila, Ofu, Olosega, Ta‘u, and Swains Islands and Rose Atoll) as well as the U.S. Line Islands (Jarvis Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Kingman Reef). Stay tuned for more updates from the field.

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Hawaii small boat socioeconomic survey receives high response from fishing community

The NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Socioeconomics Program conducted a study of Hawaii’s small-boat commercial fishing fleet in the summer of 2014. The survey was designed to examine economic and cultural aspects of small-boat fishing and to estimate the ways in which the small-boat fleet contributes to Hawaii’s economy.  This study is particularly important because it will provide resource managers with the kind of information that is needed for management to ensure a healthy future for marine fisheries around the Hawaiian Islands.

The study was carried out by PIFSC economist Minling Pan and JIMAR researcher Michel Hing Ling Chan. The survey was mailed to 1800 State of Hawaii commercial marine license (CML) holders and an online survey option was also available.  A total of 828 responses were received, of which 94 (11%) were completed online. We appreciate the overwhelming participation and support from the small boat fishing community. Currently, we are processing the data and working on the summary and analysis.

We will keep you posted on the results and preliminary findings should be posted on the PIFSC website by the end of 2015. Fishermen who indicated interest in a copy of the results will receive the final report by mail. For questions about the study, or to request results from this project contact Dr. Minling Pan at (808-725-5349) or by email (Minling.Pan@noaa.gov).

To keep up with this and other research from the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program visit our website or browse recent blog posts

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