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I. Biological Description

Mahimahi (Coryphaena hippurus) is commonly known as dolphin (the fish, not the mammal), dolphinfish, or dorado. When a mahimahi takes the hook, its colors are brilliant blue and silver dappled with yellow. These fade quickly when the fish dies. Large aggregations of mahimahi are common around flotsam drifting at sea and off fish aggregation buoys.

II. Of Special Interest For Buying/Distributing

Mahimahi aka DoradoAvailability And Seasonality: The supply of locally-caught mahimahi is extremely limited and seasonal considering the high demand for this species. Although available most of the year, mahimahi catches usually peak in March-May and September-November. Most of the fish are between 8 and 25 pounds, but larger fish are caught by trollers and smaller fish by the pole-and-line skipjack tuna fleet.

Fishing Methods: About 80% of the commercial mahimahi landings in Hawaii are by trollers. The remainder is caught on longline gear or by aku fishermen using live bait in the pole-and-line fishery.

Although mahimahi have been raised successfully in tanks, the high cost has made commercial production unfeasible to date.

Distribution: The popularity of fresh mahimahi in the tourist industry has created a steady demand and consistently good prices. Troll-caught mahimahi is marketed through fish auctions in Honolulu and Hilo, through intermediary buyers on all major islands, and directly to restaurants. The longline catch is sold primarily through the Honolulu auction.

Substitution: Hawaii's mahimahi is a highly-regarded product which is best eaten when fresh. Local mahimahi is superior in quality to the available substitutes -- lower-priced fresh mahimahi from Latin America and imported frozen fillets from Taiwan, Japan, and Latin America.

Many tourists were first introduced to Hawaii's fish species through their initial experience with a fresh mahimahi. Some restaurants offer locally-caught ono as a substitute, however the flesh lacks the sweet flavor of mahimahi and is drier. All of the "white-flesh" local species served in restaurants are subject to seasonal fluctuations in availability, so chefs rely on a combination of species which alternate as "catch of the day" based on their availability and affordability.

The bulk of the fast-food and general public restaurants in Hawaii cannot afford to put high-priced, fresh mahimahi on their menus, but large imports of frozen mahimahi fillets from Taiwan, Japan, and Latin America have made low-budget mahimahi dinners feasible for such establishments. The fresh and frozen products each have separate niches, with little overlap or conflict.

III. Of Special Interest For Preparation/Quality Control

Mahimahi filletShelf Life And Quality Control: Fresh mahimahi has a shelf life of 10 days if properly cared for (see Table 3). The fish caught by trolling (or incidentally by the pole-and-line aku boats) are only one or two days old and, hence, are typically fresher than the mahimahi caught by longline boats on extended trips.

The first external evidence of deterioration in a whole mahimahi is softening and fading of bright skin colors. In a dressed fish, discoloration of the flesh exposed around the collar bone would indicate a loss of quality. Mahimahi retains better quality if it is not filleted until shortly before use.

Imported mahimahi fillets of low quality may have high levels of histamines. Naturally-occurring spoilage bacteria probably act on the plentiful amount of histamine in mahimahi to produce biologically active histamines. When ingested in sufficient quantities, histamines give rise to an allergic-type reaction. Histamine problems can be avoided by properly chilling pelagic species from the time of capture to processing and consumption.

Product Forms And Yields: Local fishermen market their mahimahi as fresh, whole fish. Most are purchased by up-scale restaurants in Hawaii and on the mainland. Some restaurants buy fillets from intermediary suppliers, but others prefer to receive the fish whole or grilled and gutted to retain good quality.

Mahimahi over 15 pounds in body weight is the preferred market size. The average yield of fillet from whole fish ranges from 40-45% (see Table 5). A better yield can be recovered from large fish and from females than from small fish or males (which have bigger heads).

IV. Of Special Interest To Consumers/Foodservice Personnel

Color, Taste, Texture: Mahimahi is thin-skinned with firm, light pink flesh. It has a delicate flavor that is almost sweet. There is less strong-tasting "blood meat" in mahimahi than in tuna and billfish.

Preparations: Mahimahi is ideal for a variety of preparations. However, care should be taken not to overcook mahimahi. It should be cooked until it flakes and no longer.

V. Historical Note

No fish is better known in the up-scale restaurant market than Hawaii's fresh mahimahi, which has become synonymous with tourism. Among visitors, mahimahi has assumed the position of the State's best known fish.

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