Other Names: Tombo ahi (Thunnus alalunga) is commonly known as albacore tuna. Other names for this species include Pacific albacore, tombo, and "white meat" tuna.
Identification & Biology: a Tombo has a dark blue back which fades into silvery sides and a silver underbelly. The fish can be identified by its very long pectoral fins.
Range & Habitat: The tombo ahi caught in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands are large (over 40 pounds in round weight) adult fish. Smaller, immature tombo migrate extensively throughout the North Pacific far north of the Hawaiian Islands.
Fishing Methods: Most of the tombo ahi catch in Hawaii is landed by commercial longline boats which set hooks at the swimming depths of the large tombo (75-150 fathoms). A small portion of the catch is made by the small-boat handline (ika-shibi) fishery based on the island of Hawaii.
Most of the albacore caught in Hawaiian waters consist of mature fish, 40 to 80 pounds in round weight. Most of this fish is sold fresh, but surpluses caught during the peak summer season are sometimes smoked.
Market Description: The preferred market size of tombo ahi for use in fresh or processed products is greater than 50 pounds in the round. The larger fishes have several advantages: (1) greater yield of finished product -- 60-65%, (2) pinker flesh coloration; and, (3) greater fat content than smaller tombo. Despite having a pinkish rather than reddish flesh, tombo ahi occasionally substitutes for other species of ahi or for aku in raw fish preparations. It is completely interchangeable with other ahi or a`u species in broiled or sautéed forms, although it may be more susceptible to overcooking than the other species. Tombo is also interchangeable with other tuna and marlin (a`u) for dried and smoked products.
Fresh albacore is also marketed as loins, loin sections, or steaks at fish markets or supermarkets with fish counter service or self-service counters. Tombo is one of the preferred species for gourmet smoked fish products.
Color, Taste, Texture: Tombo ahi has flesh that varies from whitish-pink in smaller fish to deep pink in larger fish. Larger tombo ahi have a greater fat content than smaller fish, and this is a desirable attribute for raw fish products, as well as for broiling. As raw fish, tombo is softer than other ahi or aku and, hence, more difficult to slice into sashimi. The flesh becomes much firmer when cooked than when in the raw state.
Recommended Preparations: Restaurants usually grill tombo ahi, but other cooking methods will work as well. Tombo has a tendency to dry out quickly, so it is important to avoid overcooking.
*Albacore is the only tuna species which can be canned as "white meat" in the U.S. The west coast albacore fishery began in the early 20th century as canning techniques were perfected. However, it was twenty years before albacore became recognized as a premium canned product. With recent cannery closures on the U.S. west coast and wide fluctuations in cannery prices for tombo ahi, an increasing quantity is entering the fresh and fresh frozen restaurant market.