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Homegrown Hawaii: Local I'a
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Homegrown Hawaii: Local I'a

February 9, 2018

Living on a string of islands, you would think buying local fish would be as easy as catching a wave at the beach. But it turns out only 37 percent of the seafood we consume in Hawaii comes from local fishing businesses. Finding that local fish isn’t always easy. The seafood industry is one of the least transparent subsets of the food industry, and the marketing around it can be confusing. For instance, there might be a big sign in the fish department that says “local fish” when only one type of fish in the counter is local.

Enter Local I’a, Hawaii’s first community supported fishery (CSF). Local I’a sources seafood from the waters around O’ahu and makes it available to the community in a variety of ways that cut out the middleman and shorten the time and distance from the sea to customers’ plates.

By buying directly from the fishermen rather than through Honolulu Fish Auction, where most of Hawaii’s fish is bought and sold, Local I’a can guarantee that the fish are caught according to the company’s “pono fishing standards,” which follow industry standards for sustainability and incorporate indigenous Hawaiian fishing practices. Not only do these smaller-scale fishermen often get a better price for their catch than they would at the auction, Local I’a customers get fresher fish because it’s gone through fewer hands, says owner Ashley Watts.

How It Works

Local I’a customers sign up for a subscription where they can choose one of nine pickup locations and one of two delivery sizes. They can then choose how often they want to pick up their fresh catch, from weekly to monthly. The seafood is never frozen or more than two to three days from the ocean, and it’s delivered either filleted or whole depending on the size of the fish. Cooking instructions are included for whole fish.

Also included in every box is a code customers can use to trace the journey of their seafood through thisfish.info, where they can find out who caught it, and when, where and how it was caught.

To build a reliable market for the fishermen that supply Local I’a, Ashley also sells through four farmers markets and Kokua Market. She also distributes to chefs and does catering and pop-up events.

A Deeper Mission

For Ashley, the goal of Local I’a goes beyond supplying people with good fish. She sees Local I’a’s model as a way to protect the oceans by providing customers a stronger connection to the source of their dinner.

With a background in marine conservation, Ashley worked as a fisheries observer for seven years where she learned that industry rules and regulations don’t always get the best results when it comes to protecting fish stocks and ocean ecosystems. “If you can convince people with a business or figure out an alternative way to get the results you want, it works out better,” says Ashley. “I feel that if we connect people with the story of their seafood, then they will want to value the resource more and want to do their part.”

So far, it’s working. Customers tell her that they’ve never tasted fish this fresh in Hawaii. And when she brings a big fish into a restaurant to break down, staff members crowd around to watch. She hosts dinners where her suppliers share their stories, and she’s planning on doing more fish processing demonstrations and educational events.

“Empowering the public is my kuleana,” says Ashley. “If they know that just by buying fair trade seafood and by buying local meat and by buying local produce that they can actually make a difference, then that’s what I’m doing it for.”

Visit localiahawaii.com to learn more about Local I’a.