Climate change will cause plant-like organisms known as phytoplankton to become less dense in the central north Pacific, forcing big fish populations to scatter over larger areas of ocean. That’s the conclusion of a new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that was highlighted Monday by KITV4 news partner CivilBeat.com.
"The habitat of tuna will expand, but the density per unit area will go down," Jeff Polovina, one of the study’s lead researchers, told CivilBeat. "It's going to be a problem because the density of fish relates to catch rates that have economic importance. Lower density means lower catch rates."
At Alicia’s Market in Kalihi, customers who have grown-up with their love of poke and sashimi have already adjusted to higher prices caused by a limited supply of tuna, or ahi as the fish is more commonly known in Hawaii. A typical poke dish at the popular market costs $16.95 per pound.
“Instead of one-pound and half-pound, it's now quarter-pound (and) half-pound (orders),” said co-owner Leonard C.Y. Kam. “Prices have steadily gone up because of the demand, and the supply is very short.”
Ashly Keawe?ehu of Honolulu believes many local families will still splurge on poke for the holidays, but when it comes to the typical lunch, the marinated cubes of raw ahi may become more of a treat than a staple.
“Maybe it's more of a once a week kind of thing, instead of a couple times a week,” said Keawe?ehu. “And then just picking different choices; whatever might be on sale that day, or the specials.”
At Alicia’s Market, Kam has already expanded his choices of less traditional type poke that doesn’t put such a strain on customers’ wallets. At $8.95 per pound, poke made from squid is half the price of those with ahi.
“Squid and tako is cheaper than fresher fish, so they have to go to that now too,” Kam said about his customers. “But, they still want it; they still want the poke.”
Although it may take years if not decades to determine if NOAA’s computer-based research on big fish populations pans out, climate change may impact areas of the Pacific Ocean differently.
According to the study, waters off California will see a 43 percent increase in populations of big fish like ahi.