From Wave to Table: A "Junk" Fish is Transformed

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Kahala, also known as Hawaiian yellowtail or amberjack, used to be considered an inedible, throwback fish because it’s prone to contracting a poisonous reef toxin called ciguatera, which can cause serious illness in humans. But kähala’s days as a lowly junk fish are over, thanks to Kona Blue Water Farms, a marine farm located on the Big Island. Rebranded Kona Kampachi, the transformed, toxin-free kähala has popped up on menus in such illustrious dining destinations as Roy’s, Alan Wong’s and Merriman’s. Chefs rave about its 30-percent fat content (it’s loaded with good-for-you Omega-3 fatty acids), its buttery taste and firm texture. It’s a versatile fish that can be served sashimi-style with a sprinkling of sesame seeds or pan-roasted with a little salt and pepper.

Marine biologists Neil Anthony Sims and Dr. Dale Sarver, both longtime Kona residents, started Kona Blue Water Farms in 2001 with the goal of creating a sustainable fish hatchery and open-ocean farm. They use a broodstock made up of locally caught fish to ensure that the farmed fish are genetically similar to those in the wild. The site of Kona Blue’s offshore pens—away from reefs with strong currents where the water is more than 200 feet deep—was specifically selected to minimize environmental impact. The efforts are paying off: The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, a program intended to measure the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture, recently gave Kona Blue Water Farms’ Kona Kampachi a good alternative rating—the first time a marine fish farmed in the ocean has received anything other than a red-avoid rating. Not bad for a junk fish.

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