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What is Hawaiian Pink Snapper?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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Hawaiian pink snapper, or opakapaka, is a member of the snapper family which is heavily fished off the coasts of Hawaii, where the fish were once quite abundant and very large. The fish tends to keep well through the shipping process, and as a result it is widely exported to the American mainland, where it is a popular offering on many menus. Many markets carry Hawaiian pink snapper in a variety of forms, for people who want to cook it at home.

This fish is more formally known as Pristipomoides filamentosus, and it is sometimes also referred to as crimson snapper. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as Hawaiian pink snapper are actually brown, appearing extremely bright and vivid when they are harvested in rocky bottomed areas, and more muddy in color when fished from areas with a sandy sea floor. Many people who dive or snorkel in Hawaii have encountered the fish in situ, and they are often included in guides to the various creatures that people might see on such trips.

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Like other perciform fishes, snappers have a long dorsal fin and rayed anal and dorsal fins. The Hawaiian pink snapper has a streamlined body which can grow up to three feet (one meter) in length, although this is growing increasingly rare, and the fish feed on smaller fish and various other organisms in the ocean. Studies on the Hawaiian pink snapper suggest that the fish grow and mature slowly, and their habitat is being threatened by various commercial activities in the Hawaiian islands.

Because of these issues, organizations who are concerned about sustainable seafood often advocate that the Hawaiian pink snapper should be avoided. In addition to being heavily overfished, causing snapper populations to shrink radically, the fishing process also involves a high bycatch of other species, which may be thrown back. Attempts by the University of Hawaii to farm the fish commercially have met with some obstacles, primarily related to the propensity for parasitic infection exhibited by these fish in captivity.

This is unfortunate for diners, who prize the light pink flesh with a delicate flavor. Hawaiian pink snapper is also very firm, making the fish suitable for grilling and a wide variety of other cooking preparations. Farmed striped bass and pollock are two good alternative choices which taste and behave similarly when cooked.

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