« January 2011 Table of Contents
Top Species: Mahimahi
Mahi gives operators a steady performer with great value
By Joanne Friedrick
January 01, 2011
Like a song that is catchy, but not destined to become a
smash hit, mahimahi has steadily climbed the charts in
popularity, although no one is expecting it to surpass salmon
or tilapia among
Still, suppliers such as Orca Bay Seafoods in Renton, Wash.,
are pleased with the steady growth of mahimahi since it first
became part of their product offerings about 15 years ago.
"It definitely is a core item in our portfolio," says Larry
Williams, director of retail sales and marketing. "If you look
at all our species, salmon and tilapia are No. 1 and 2,
followed by yellowfin tuna," he says. But
mahimahi has climbed
from the No. 8 or 9 spot to the point where it has surpassed
halibut and cod among the company's top sellers.
Mahimahi's positive attributes, he says, are its good
sustainability rating and its moderate price versus fish such
as halibut and sockeye salmon. At the New
Fulton Fish Market Cooperative at Hunts Point in the Bronx, N.Y., 3- to 5-pound
frozen fillets from Peru were selling for $2.20 a pound in
Among foodservice operators, mahimahi "still has a great
price value," he says. It's not as affordable as tilapia, which
is often promoted as a value species, but it isn't
toward the high-end of the menu like wild salmon.
Mahimahi also has broad appeal among consumers because it
has a mild flavor and presents a blank canvas of sorts for
sauces and seasonings.
Orca Bay offers mahimahi in 10-ounce fillets and as part of
its new SteamWell line, prepared with a sundried
"Our director of product development likes mahi for its ease
of preparation," says Williams, adding that mahimahi lends
itself to steam-cooking, but can also be prepared pan-fried,
baked or broiled.
The steam-cooked option helps differentiate the seafood
category in general, he says, and is likely to see additional
line extensions. "People continue to look for value," he says,
noting the 8-ounce serving offers 5.5 ounces of mahimahi and
2.5 ounces of sauce for $5.99.
The price of mahimahi has remained fairly stable, says
Williams, "and because there are two seasons, it's prevalent."
Orca Bay sources mahimahi from South America between October
and February and from Taiwan from April to July.
South of the border
In 2009, mahimahi, also known as dolphin fish or dorado,
came fresh and frozen to the United States largely from South
American countries: Ecuador, 12.8 million pounds; Peru, 11.6
million pounds; Panama, 3.27 million pounds; and Costa Rica,
slightly more than 1 million pounds. And Chinese-controlled
Taiwan accounted for 6.57 million pounds in 2009.
Williams says there isn't a noticeable difference in
mahimahi depending on where it comes from, and Orca Bay packs
it from multiple sources.
The United States also has a domestic mahimahi supply,
coming primarily from Hawaii, the Gulf states of Texas,
Alabama, Louisiana and Florida and the Atlantic coast off of
North and South Carolina. In 2009, mahimahi landings from all
U.S. states accounted for 2.79 million pounds. Hawaii was by
far the leading producer, landing nearly 1.3 million
Clear Springs Foods in Buhl, Idaho, added mahimahi to its
offerings five years ago. Don Riffle, executive VP-sales and
marketing says the fish "has performed well for us" and it
gives another dimension to the company's retail line that
includes trout and pangasius.
"We needed to source other raw material other than trout and
source it in an economical way," says Riffle. The company was
already bringing in trout from Chile, so it made logistical
sense to bring in mahimahi from Central and South America, he
Riffle says mahimahi sales "grow every year for us."
Mahimahi, he points out, is well known among consumers. Clear Springs has a macadamia-coconut-crusted mahi retail product and
just recently launched a Jamaican jerk-flavored variety.
Mahimahi is also the only wild, value-added fish offered by
Clear Springs, which Riffle says is sourced from Peru and
Pricewise, he says, it has been stable for the past year or
so. "We've learned when to buy at a good price," he says, by
partnering with the producers.
Although just a minor part of Clear Springs' business now,
Riffle says the dining and foodservice segment is embracing
"It has relatively good acceptance coast to coast and that
helps when selling it
as part of a line of products," he
Clear Springs is also interested in having mahimahi remain a
species that has a good sustainability rating "and we are
working with producers and looking at the fishing industries in
Peru and Ecuador to make sure it stays sustainable."
Tim Lycke, president of Incredible Fish in Miami, says the
fall mahimahi season for 2010 got off to a slow start, probably
because of the water temperatures.
"Mahi like warm water," he says, and with the weather
patterns, full moon and global warming "things are delayed. We
usually see good production this time of year."
As a result, he says, prices out of Ecuador at the beginning
of the South American season were edging higher, with fresh
H&G 5- to 10-pounders at $2.25 per pound, 10-15s at $3.20,
15-20s at $3.25 and 20-plus at $3.35 a pound. About a month
into the season, prices were matching last year's range, he
says, with 5-10s at $2.25, 10-15s at $2.75 and 15-plus at $3.
Fresh fillets were selling at $5 a pound.
Like Williams and Riffle, Lycke says retailers and
restaurateurs are bullish on mahimahi because customers know
what it is "and people feel comfortable with it."
Right now, he says, demand is good and it has the added
cachet of being a wild fish. The price, even though higher than
usual, is still
attractive compared with many other species,
he says, such as tuna that is selling at $9 or $10 a pound.
"It's a good fish," Lycke says, "and if it's priced right,
people will eat it."
No small fry wanted
However, not everyone is looking to stock imported mahimahi
in their seafood cases. And if the domestic supply isn't
fitting specifications, some stores may be mahimahi-free
At Tuckahoe Seafood in Richmond, Va., owner Brian O'Donohue
says he's been without mahimahi since spring. Not because he
can't source imported product, but because he prefers the
domestic fish from the Atlantic and it hasn't been available in
the sizes he needs.
"Mahi is popular with my customers," says O'Donohue. "We
sell it as the ideal fish taco fish. But I haven't had it all
O'Donohue's local wholesalers are only able to get 6- to
8-pound fish, which aren't large enough to provide him with
1.5-inch or larger fillets. "We're a high-end fish market and
we like to get it [according] to our specifications."
The fillets that come out of a 6-pound fish are too thin, he
says, and the fish from the Caribbean or South America takes
too long to get to him. It may look good for a day or two, but
then it starts to go bad, he says.
"It's a good seller when we have it," says O'Donohue, who
adds that there isn't a good substitute for a thick mahi
fillet. "We did some wahoo and then we get into the other
white-fleshed fish like grouper and cod."
O'Donohue works with six different suppliers as well as
regional wholesalers, and says the reason the fish are smaller
is because the bigger ones didn't find their way up the coast
this year. Both his suppliers and sport fishermen he knows have
said the same thing, he says. "They just weren't catching the
Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland,