Local Iʻa: The Story of Your Seafood

Mar 5, 2018

Fresh off the boat fish. Ashley Watts, Owner of Local I'a, inspects fish caught by one of her fishermen.
Credit Local I'a

A local organization is on a mission to connect people with the story of their seafood. The organization called Local I‘a uses a subscription service to provide consumers and chefs with fresh, local boat-to-plate fish. HPR reporter Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

Ashley Watts is chopping up some fresh ahi shibi at her booth at the Kailua Farmer’s Market.

Watts runs Local I‘a. She’s on a mission to connect people with the story of their seafood.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Watts runs the organization Local I‘a. She’s on a mission to connect people with the story of their seafood.

“This week’s ahi comes from Kekoa Seward. He quit his full-time job to become a full-time fisherman,” says Watts.

She points to a framed photo she has on display of Seward on his boat Kū Mana.

A photo of fishing boat Ku Mana on display at Watts' farmers' market booth. This week's ahi shibi was caught aboard fisherman Kekoa Seward's boat Ku Mana.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“He’s been on vacation quite a bit the past couple of months as a lot of the fishermen have because of the inclement weather,” says Watts, “He decided to go out this past Monday and he caught these three ahi that we have for distribution today as well as some mahimahi and some ehu.”

This week's ahi shibi.
Credit Local I'a

Local Iʻa launched in 2014. The organization’s goal is to increase accessibility and consumption of locally-sourced seafood all the while supporting local fishermen and fisheries.  Watts joined two years ago. The Florida native comes from a fishing family herself and says there’s a need for increased consumer awareness about where our seafood comes from.

Ahi poke from Local I'a.
Credit Local I'a

“Distribution alone adds at least a week to the age of the fish. And then a lot of the fish locally is caught from the long-line boats that are out for weeks at a time,” says Watts, “So a lot of the fish that you get at the supermarket is at least weeks old.”

Knowledge is power. She even assigns a code to each fish, and consumers can input that code into an app and up pops all this information.

Ahi poke from Local I'a.
Credit Local I'a

“You can know who caught the fish, when they caught it, how they caught it, and where they caught it,” says Watts, “It gives the consumer more of a database to form opinions for future purchases.”

Local fisherman Kekoa Seward poses with a sizable mahimahi. He is one of 30 fishermen that supply Local I'a with seafood.
Credit Local I'a

Watts currently has 30 local fishermen* supplying her organization with fish. But it’s the distribution model that makes Local Iʻa unique. Much like community supported agriculture or CSA, she offers consumers a weekly seafood subscription.

Local I'a booth at the Kailua Farmers Market.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“You prepay each week for a certain amount of seafood like you would for a certain amount of produce in a CSA,” says Watts, “And every week the fishermen catch various types of species and I send out a newsletter insuring the customer of what they get and how to prepare it and how to cut it up if it’s a whole fish or something like that. And it gives the consumer a way to try something that they don’t normally buy in the grocery store.”

A look at what's in the cooler at the Local I'a farmers' market booth in Kailua.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Subscriptions start at $25 a week for two pounds of seafood with pick-up locations scattered throughout Oʻahu. Filling those subscriptions have proven challenging in recent months. Rough weather conditions kept fishermen on land. So Watts is exploring other alternatives

“I try to source sustainable farmed species such as the different operations on Kona with the shrimp and lobster and all the things over there,” says Watts, “And when the fish are biting all at once like mahimahi and its a specie that you can freeze, you can actually properly store and freeze it and so it saves up for when there’s so to speak ʻa rainy day’ and there’s no fish.”

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated there were a dozen local fishermen. However, there are 30 fishermen supplying seafood to the organization.