For many Hawaii visitors, sampling the Aloha State's bounty of seafood products is a crucial part of their time on the islands. Checklists for food-focused travelers may include tasting an authentic tuna poke, wahoo, hapuupuu (Hawaiian sea bass) or opakapaka (Hawaiian pink snapper).
Meanwhile, interest in sustainable tourism in all its forms is growing each year. According to the Sustainable Travel Report commissioned by Booking.com, the percentage of travelers who say they intend to stay in "eco-accommodations" in the next year has grown from 62% in 2016 to 68% in 2018. Additionally, more than two-thirds of travelers now say they would be willing to spend at least 5% more on their travel to ensure it was as low-impact on the environment as possible.
That's where Pacific Whale Foundation's new Sustainable Sushi at Sea tour on Maui comes in. The nonprofit organization dedicated to ocean stewardship through research, education and conservation projects also operates tours and cruises through PacWhale Eco-Adventures.
"A big part of what we do is serve as an educational resource for all things marine," said Kelly White, marketing and development director at Pacific Whale Foundation. "Overfishing and stock depletion have become major health concerns. If you're going to eat fish one way or another, and in a lot of cultures or areas it may not be a choice, then we want you to think about where it comes from and how to sustainably source what you eat."
The sunset tour includes several sushi courses prepared fresh by an onboard chef, appetizers and a selection of sake, wine, beer and cocktails. Additionally, naturalists are onboard to discuss the dishes and their sources.
"The yellowfin tuna we serve, for example, is sport pole catch, avoiding the bycatch from long-line fishing," White said.
The Kampachi, also known as Almaco Jack, comes from Kampachi Farms on the Island of Hawaii, where they raise the fish in aquapods that drift with the currents between three and 75 miles offshore. The aquaculture company also uses sustainable fish feed made from agricultural proteins, such as soybeans, instead of fishmeal and fish oil from wild stocks.
"We set it up as a standing event," White said. "You're not sitting there and getting a plate full of sushi with no interaction. We purposefully bring out one roll at a time or one course at a time so the chefs and naturalists can describe the dish, how it was collected and answer any questions."
Participants can learn about the chef's sushi techniques and observe the process up close, in addition to getting reminders to switch between species when dining on seafood frequently and how to learn more about how the fish is caught.
While the Ocean Guardian catamaran can hold more than 140 passengers, the Sustainable Sushi Cruise is limited to 60 guests to maintain the focus on education and interaction with experts, White said.
While PWF staff first openly debated whether they should serve seafood on one of their tours as a conservation organization, in the end they decided the educational value was worthwhile.
"Subsistence fishing is an integral part of the native Hawaiian way and culture, and people have to make a living," White said. "At the same time, a lot of people order seafood and have no idea how it got to their plate. The program serves as a reminder to think about what you're eating, what goes in your body and where it came from."
The Sustainable Sushi at Sea tour ($105 adults, $55 ages 12 and younger) runs for two-and-a-half hours and leaves from Maui's Maalaea Harbor.