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Casting Their Net

Its trade relationships span the globe, but fresh island fish remains rooted in Hawaii.

When 18-year-old California native Bruce Johnson moved to Hawaii 30 years ago, he was quickly reeled in by the lifestyle of commercial fishermen in Kona on the Big Island, where he spent the next eight years before moving to Maui.

Eight years later at Maalaea Harbor on Maui, Johnson founded Fresh Island Fish Co. in 1977. Today, his company processes 40,000 to 50,000 pounds of fish weekly for local distribution through facilities on Maui, the Big Island, Oahu and — its 2001 addition — Kauai. Last year, the company earned $13.9 million in gross sales, placing the family-run business at No. 12 on Hawaii Business’ Best of the Rest list.

Big Catch: Bruce Johnson reeled in $13.9 million in sales last year.

"I founded the first facility because I felt there was a need for a good-quality distributor," Johnson says. "This also gave me the opportunity to continue fishing and staying involved with the fishing community."

Johnson attributes much of the company’s success to its import-export operations established in the 1980s. FIF’s export division ships fish daily throughout the United States and Canada.

For more than 20 years, FIF’s strong trade relationships with countries such as New Zealand and Australia have produced major seafood resources for the company.

“Resource management has always been a concern of mine, and establishing trade relations throughout the Pacific was a major incentive," Johnson says. "We also import seafood from various farms in the U.S. and Canada."

Johnson maintains that FIF’s first priority is its Hawaii suppliers and customers. FIF’s products can be found in Hawaii’s T S Restaurants, including Duke’s Waikiki. The company also owns and operates an aku boat that supplies Maui retailers. Kona and Kauai plants produce a large percentage of the state’s yellow-fin tuna. "Our first choice is to purchase from the Hawaiian fishing fleet," he says. “(And) when supply is short, our customers in Hawaii will always come first."

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Hawaii Business,August