Category: Food & Culture

Bringing The Hawaiian Heat

Hot or not? Our writer sampled over 30 Hawai‘i-made hot sauces; here are her notes on what’s worth a shake (or two).

Story by Vanessa Wolf
Illustration by Bambi Edlund

Growing Future Farmers: Localicious Hawai‘i

Story by Heidi Pool
Photos by Steve Brinkman

How a Maui group set out to grow future farmers one salad at a time, and wound up inspiring a “localicious” movement across the State.

It all started with a salad. And the potential impact of a humble dollar. Literally.

In the fall of 2011, members of Maui County Farm Bureau’s “Grown on Maui” committee were pondering the fact that a typical principal farm operator in Hawai‘i is around 60 years old. “We realized we needed to do something to foster up-and-coming farmers,” says committee member Charlene Ka‘uhane. “Maui County’s Office of Economic Development is a strong supporter of our programs, but we’d maxed out on our existing funding, and realized we needed to explore other avenues.”

Fresh Local Salad Grown in Hawaii

From this conversation, the Farm Bureau’s “Localicious, Dine Out Maui” promotion was born. Participating restaurants create a salad made with locally grown ingredients and designate these items with the Grown on Maui logo. For every salad sold, a dollar is donated to the Bureau’s Growing Future Farmers fund, administered by the Hawai‘i Agricultural Foundation. Since its inception, the campaign has raised an impressive $13,000. “That’s a lot of salads,” Charlene chuckles.

Proceeds from Localicious, Dine Out Maui are distributed in the form of grants and scholarships for new farmers and ranchers to start or enhance agricultural businesses in Maui County. “Scholarship recipients are graduates of the University of Hawai‘i Maui College’s agricultural program who wish to complete four-year studies at UH Hilo or Oregon State University,” Charlene reports.

Existing farmers may apply for grants to expand their businesses. “Smaller farmers need just a little help, not a huge amount of money,” says committee member Chef Chris Schobel, formerly of Hula Grill. “Who knows, a scholarship or grant recipient could be the person who comes up with something really significant, all because we’re selling salads.”

But growing future farmers isn’t just about raising money. The Grown on Maui Committee has hosted several meetings with chefs and farmers so each can understand the other’s needs. “When we first began our meetings, we really didn’t know each other,” says committee member Eric Faivre, executive chef at the Grand Wailea. “They didn’t know what we needed, and we didn’t know what they grew. So we made lists of ten items we always use, like Romaine lettuce, and ten specialty items we’d like to have, like baby carrots and artichokes.”

Growing Future Farmers“Sourcing ingredients is harder than it looks,” says Tylun Pang, committee member and executive chef at the Fairmont Kea Lani’s Ko Restaurant. “This program has opened up some amazing doors. It’s given me a greater respect for what our farmers deal with every day. We now have a relationship, and it’s no longer about buying veggies in a box.”

Committee chairman Darren Strand, president of Maui Gold Pineapple Company, also applauds the collaboration. “The farmers said, ‘I wish I could sell more,’ and the chefs said, ‘I wish I could buy more.’ This program helps farmers sell more products, identifies restaurants willing to support ag, and creates a funding source to educate the next generation of farmers.”

Chef Schobel adds another campaign benefit, the opportunity for restaurant servers and guests to interact about the importance of the island’s ag industry: “Guests feel positive about eating something delicious that’s grown on Maui and making a donation for a worthy cause.”

Committee member Scott McGill, executive chef of TS Restaurants group, which owns Hula Grill and Duke’s Beach House, specifically trains his staff members on the program. “We take them on farm visits, and we’ve had Dave Horsman from Ho‘opono Farms come into our restaurants to meet everyone,” he says. “I’m excited about the program, which makes our staff excited, which makes our guests excited.”

The Chefs behind Localicious

Localicious Hawai‘i

During the month of March, the Localicious campaign expands to encompass all Hawaiian Islands, not just Maui. “When we discovered how successful the Maui County Farm Bureau’s Localicious program has been, we saw an opportunity to create a statewide initiative,” says Denise Hayashi Yamaguchi, executive director of the Hawai‘i Ag Foundation.

Restaurants participating in Localicious Hawai‘i have designated an item on their menu (not necessarily a salad) that’s made with locally grown, caught or raised products, and a portion of the proceeds goes towards statewide ag education. Localicious Hawai‘i is chaired by renowned chef Alan Wong, who has restaurants on both O‘ahu and Maui.

“Restaurants raising at least $500 during the month of March can adopt a local school where the Foundation’s Ag in the Classroom program will be implemented,” says Denise. “The Foundation will partner with public school teachers to introduce an innovative national agricultural program in the classroom beginning in fall 2014. Our goal for this year’s Localicious Hawai‘i campaign is 60 participating restaurants generating $50,000 in donations, and we plan to make it an annual event.”

And it all began with a simple salad

Growing Future Farmers - Salad

“Growing future farmers is critical to the perpetuation of Hawai‘i’s agricultural industry,” says Charlene Ka‘uhane, “and ag education is fundamental to ensuring its continued viability. We want our keiki to know where their food comes from, understand ag’s importance in our communities, and see farming as a genuine career opportunity.”

“Localicious is a perfect example of how giving now pays off in the future,” says Chef Schobel.

To find out which Hawai‘i restaurants are participating in the Localicious Hawai‘i campaign during the month of March, visit








Osechi Ryori: The Cuisine of Japanese New Year

Story by Jon Letman

Next to life itself, food is the greatest gift. To share food is to extend another’s life, to celebrate bounty and to perpetuate culture. One could argue that the Japanese, as much as anyone, exhibit their culture and values though food. The presentation of a dish—its color, form, flavor, texture, geometric shape, temperature and the number of and order in which it is served—imparts Japanese core values: simplicity, harmony and balance.

Never is this more true than for Japanese New Year’s cuisine: osechi ryori (literally ‘honorable season’). Abbreviated here as “osechi,” this highly structured and meticulously prepared culinary heritage, rich in symbolism, is the ultimate expression of Japanese culinary arts.

Making osechi is no simple task. Typically made by the women of the house, osechi can easily surpass two dozen elaborate dishes that must be prepared in addition to the tasks of cleaning house, year-end gift giving, writing and sending many dozens (even hundreds) of New Years greeting cards and buying year-end provisions like sake, flowers and kadomatsu decorations.

Osechi RyoriBeginning New Year’s Day, osechi is served to family, friends and guests and meant to be the sole source of food during the three-day Oshougatsu (Japanese New Year) period. Because Japanese winters are cold and even today many homes are only heated on a room-by-room basis, it’s easy to find a part of the house cold enough to keep the prepared dishes chilled without ‘over-chilling’ them in a refrigerator.

Living off osechi during Oshougatsu relieves the family’s chief meal preparer of cooking duties for three days, but today many Japanese families enjoy a scaled back version of osechi and, by the second day, may be eating take-out Chinese, sushi or even fast food.

Deep roots

Osechi’s roots go back at least 1,200 years and possibly much further. As the first food eaten in the new year, osechi symbolizes life’s greatest aspirations: health, fertility, prosperity, success and diligence. Three of the most commonly used ingredients—kazunoko (brined herring roe), kuromame (black beans) and tazukuri (baby sardines),—symbolize many children, health and success, respectively.

Osechi RyoriOther ingredients, whether eel, crab and red snapper rolled as sushi, lily root folded in the shape of a white plum blossom, konbu seaweed ‘ribbons’ or pink and white kamaboko (fish cake) cut to resemble flower petals, all have auspicious associations.

Typically osechi is served in three-tiered decorative boxes called jubako. These lacqueraware boxes are usually black, gold or vermilion and emblazoned with images of bamboo, pine branches or plum blossoms.

For many people today, making osechi is just too much work. In Hawai‘i, instead of spending days preparing several dozen dishes, it’s far more common to begin New Year’s day with ozoni soup, mochi, a sip of sake and simpler preparations of nishime stew and giant prawns.

Like osechi, these dishes require ingredients that may be available only in December. To meet year-end demand, local Hawai‘i farmers and produce wholesalers plan months in advance to grow, ship and distribute vegetables like mizuna, a Japanese mustard green (Brassica juncea var. japonica), gobo (burdock root) and araimo—locally called dasheen—a miniature form of taro.

Earl Kashiwagi, general manager for Esaki’s Produce on Kaua‘i sources mizuna and gobou from multiple islands because “you never know which island is going to have a weather problem.” He has to commit to buy the vegetables in June to ensure delivery in time for the five or six-day sale window at the end of the year.

And even though Esaki’s is a wholesale distributor, every year Kashiwagi sees individual customers come to him directly, desperate for an ingredient their local grocer doesn’t have.

“They walk in, even on New Years Eve and say, ‘Uncle, you got any mizuna inside your ice box?”

December also sees higher demand for daikon radishes, renkon (lotus root) and carrots. Kashiwagi can still get these vegetables locally, but says others are growing scarce with each passing year.

“It’s becoming a challenge every year to get all of these things because there are not too many Japanese farmers left who follow the traditions,” Kashiwagi says.

The greatest gift

One Honolulu-based chef who still prepares osechi annually is Shuji Abe, owner of Takumi Catering & Planning on Kapiolani Boulevard. He begins planning his coming New Year’s menu 12 months out.

In addition to fish and seafood associated with celebrations (red snapper, spiny lobster, herring and salmon roe), osechi relies heavily on root vegetables. Unlike the locally grown daikon, renkon and gobou, Abe must import kuwai (arrowhead root) and kintoki ninjin, a sweet red carrot. As much as 60 percent of the ingredients he needs aren’t available in Hawai‘i.

As families become more diffuse and long-held traditions fall victim to changing habits, the old custom of multi-generations dedicating two or more full days to making osechi has declined. For Abe too, societal changes have led him to produce simpler menus. In the last decade, however, he has observed a renewed interest in the more elaborately prepared osechi dishes.

Abe, who has lived in Hawai‘i since 1981, says the basic techniques employed in osechi— the cutting, boiling, peeling, sculpting— are used in other dishes throughout the year. Thus, he contends, a Japanese chef is preparing for osechi all year long, whether they actually make it or not.

With dishes as time-consuming as they are, Abe doesn’t make osechi for the masses. Working alone, he plans his menu one year in advance and by the end of December is singularly focused on the year’s culminating preparation with some of the more complex dishes requiring over a week to fully complete.

When his work is finished, Abe wraps the three-tiered jubako in a furoshiki (ornamental kerchief) and delivers it to his most prized clients with whom he has a special relationship. In most years, he’ll prepare osechi for not more than four or five parties meaning all this work is for the pleasure of no more than 20 people.

To successfully plan and execute a three-day meal in which each dish is ready for presentation and delivery within a few hours of all the others on the final day of the year requires remarkable commitment and coordination.

Ultimately, Abe says his months of planning and days of cooking for the pleasure of just a few are his way of keeping Japanese culture alive, even far from home. Abe says he does it for himself too, and to share his love of Japanese food in a way that expresses his heartfelt thanks and appreciation.

Osechi Ryori

A Historical Timeline of Coffee in Hawai‘i

Special Downoad: Historical Timeline of Coffee in Hawai‘i Bookmark (print and use!)

1813 – Don Francisco de Paula y Marin records planting coffee on O‘ahu.

1825 – The HMS Blonde sails in Honolulu with 30 coffee plants.

1828 – Coffee is planted in Kona and Hilo on The Big Island of Hawai‘i.

1830s – Coffee initiated as a commercial crop.

1835 – Coffee is planted in Koloa, Kaua‘i.

1849 – Coffee is exported to California during the Gold Rush.

1877 – Lava from Mauna Loa volcano flows through the Kona District.

1882 – Hawai‘i Agricultural Society forms.

1890 – Strong economies in Europe and America results in rise of market prices for coffee, creating a boom for Kona coffee.

1892 – Hermann Widemann introduces a Guatemalan coffee variety to Hawai‘i that is now referred to as “Kona Typica.”

1898 – Japanese coffee farmers establish the Kona Japanese Coffee Producers Association in an effort to improve processing and market a higher value product.

1904 – Judge Copp plants coffee in the Kokomo District of Maui. 125 acres are planted by Honolua Ranch in West Maui.

1904 – Donkeys, known as “Kona Nightingales” are brought in to help with the coffee harvest.

1910 – Japanese coffee farmers make-up 80% of the total farming population in Kona.

1932 – Dept. of Education institutes the “Coffee Vacation” so students can pick coffee during their hiatus from school from August – November.

1944 – Upcountry Maui children trade hand-picked and roasted coffee to the Marines of the Fighting Fourth at Kokomo for cans of Spam.

1956 – Fukunaga and Beaumont publish research from the Kona Experiment Station revolutionizing coffee pruning worldwide.

1957 – 15 million pounds of coffee are produced in Hawai‘i—the peak of production.

1959 – Statehood.

1967 – Kona Pacific Farmer’s Co-Op purchases and converts a former pineapple cannery into a coffee mill.

1969 – “Coffee Vacation” canceled, Kona schools conform with the rest of Hawai‘i.

1970 – Kona Coffee Festival

1980 – Malulani Farm plants 500 acres of Red Catuai coffee on Moloka‘i.

1987 – Kaua‘i Coffee Co. plants 3100 acres of former sugar fields into coffee.

1988 – Pioneer Sugar Mill converts 500 acres to Ka‘anapali Estate Coffee in West Maui.

1994 – The Internet revolution. Coffee farmers are now able to market directly to consumers.

1995 – The Hawai‘i Coffee Association is formed.

1998 – Labeling guidelines law passed for origin certification in Hawai‘i.

2005 – Kona Coffee Council and Maui Coffee Association established.

2010 – Kaua‘i Coffee Co. produces half of the coffee grown in the United States.

2013 – 200th Anniversary of Coffee in Hawai‘i.

History of Coffee in Hawaii

Kampachi in Kona: Aquaculture & Mariculture on Hawai‘i Island

Fish Flourish at Energy Lab Site

by Margaret Kearns

Created in 1974 by the Hawai`i State Legislature as a visionary experiment in generating sustainable energy, the National Energy Laboratory of Hawai`i Authority (NELHA) continues that original mission today, while also generating excitement as a leader in commercial aquaculture and mariculture enterprises. With nearly 40 years of research, experimentation and production, this state agency is now recognized as the world’s premier ocean science and technology park, growing sustainable industries by using sunshine, seawater and ingenuity.

It’s a lofty reputation evolving from what now seems a modest plan: to pull cold water from the ocean depths and warm water from the shore, using the temperature difference to turn a turbine and generate electricity.

Located just south of Kona International Airport on Hawai`i Island’s Keahole Point, the facility occupies some 322 acres, including prime oceanfront. In addition to NELHA’s office and laboratory facilities, public charter school and extensive pristine natural resources, the site includes leasable open land for tenant use for research, education and commercial projects. Not surprisingly, given the location, some of the state’s earliest tenants at the site included forward-thinking commercial aquaculture pioneers, Kona Cold Lobsters and Big Island Abalone Corporation.

According to officials at NELHA, its goal is “to attract tenants who can use the unique complement of natural and logistical resources to engage in successful, productive research, education and commercial activities that support sustainable industry development in Hawai`i.”

Today, NELHA is “landlord” to nearly 30 thriving enterprises that generate about $30–$40 million per year in total economic impact, including tax revenues, and provide more than 200 jobs.

Blue Ocean 2One of its most recent tenants, Blue Ocean Mariculture, is currently making waves by successfully cultivating what some have dubbed “The Wonder Fish”: Hawaiian Kampachi. Using cutting-edge mariculture—open ocean/marine aquaculture—techniques and equipment, they implement innovations in sustainable marine-farming methods, minimizing harm to the planet while helping to feed the Earth’s population!

Together with its sister company OceanSpar, Blue Ocean is defining the most advanced technology for successful, sustainable open ocean mariculture in the United States, according to Sylvia Dow, aka Queen Kampachi, head of sales and marketing for the company. She says, “We’re proud to be the exclusive producer of Hawaiian Kampachi, managing all aspects of the fish life cycle, ensuring the highest-quality fish and the least environmental impact.”

“We began harvesting our first premium, sashimi-grade Hawaiian Kampachi just about a year ago [June 2012] and the response has been tremendous. This year we anticipate 3,000 tons of our fish will be shipped to top chefs and fine restaurants throughout the Hawaiian Islands and the mainland U.S.,” Dow says.

She credits NELHA’s unique location for creating the perfect environment for the cultivation of stellar-quality kampachi.

“Our offshore facility is sheltered from the Pacific Ocean trade winds by several volcanoes, including Mauna Kea and Hualalai. The consistent water temperature, mild weather and strong ocean currents make it perfect location for open-ocean mariculture and NELHA provides us access to high-quality surface and deep ocean seawater for our hatchery facility.”

While sustainability is a major issue, there is another need for farming this species using mariculture techniques. According to experts, wild kampachi is prone to internal parasites and ciguatera toxicity, while high-quality diets and innovative culture methods used in kampachi cultivation result in one of the tastiest, most versatile, and healthiest fish available.

Kampachi’s high fat content (around 30%) not only makes for delicious sushi, but also makes the fish an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The fact that are raised in some of the cleanest water on Earth, Hawai`i-grown kampachi are free of detectable levels of mercury and PCBs, and are completely free of internal parasites.

Blue Ocean’s Hawaiian Kampachi is produced from locally caught wild Seriola rivoliana brood fish known as kahala and are maintained on a natural diet (similar to that found in their ocean home) at the company’s on-shore facility at NELHA. Fertilized eggs, available year-round, are incubated overnight, stocked into tanks at the larval rearing facility and hatch out over a 24-hour period. They remain in the rearing facility for about two months before transfer into the land-based outdoor nursery tanks. The tanks operate with local seawater, preparing fingerlings for open ocean temperature and salinity conditions, according to Dow, during which time (another 75–90 days) they are vaccinated against bacterial infections before being transferred to the sophisticated open water offshore farm site, where they spend 10–12 months to reach harvest maturity (four to six pounds).

Once on shore, the fish are immediately chilled in high- quality brine ice to ensure freshness and are then transferred to Kona Cold Lobster, where they are processed and packed just hours after harvesting, Dow says.

Joe Wilson, co-owner of Kona Cold Lobster with his brother Dale, says the extraordinary quality and quantity of Hawaiian Kampachi cultivated by Blue Ocean continues to climb with demand from consumers and chefs across the country as awareness of its unique flavor and texture profile, as well as its health benefits, spread worldwide. The sashimi-grade fish is not genetically engineered; it’s simply well bred and is higher in omega-3 oils than just about any other fish, according to Dow.

In addition to processing and packaging Blue Ocean Hawaiian Kampachi, Kona Cold Lobster specializes in distributing live Maine Lobsters and Dungeness Crabs along with oysters, clams and mussels to consumers and restaurants throughout the island. It’s been operating in its current location for 28 years and is the only retail outlet for all the products it handles in the islands. It’s been joined by numerous aquaculture enterprises at NELHA, including Big Island Abalone and Royal Hawaiian Seafarm, King Ocean Farm, Kona Coast Shellfish, Troutlodge Marine Farms and the world’s first commercial seahorse farm, Ocean Rider, among others.

Kampachi Poke

In the meantime, corporate chef Ken Schloss of Huggo’s and On the Rocks in Kailua-Kona an d Lava Lava Beach Club in Waikoloa Beach Resort – all three restaurants on Hawaii Island—says Hawaiian Kampachi is absolutely his favorite fish, personally and professionally.

“Hawaiian Kampachi is a uniquely flavored fish with a slightly nutty and a distinctly fresh, clean taste. While it’s wonderfully silky in texture, it’s also firm enough to prepare on the grill—one of my favorite cooked preparations,” Schloss says.

It’s an incredibly versatile fish, he continues, perhaps best served raw—simple sashimi or poke—but delicious sautéed, pan-seared, steamed or poached as well. One of his signature dishes at Huggo’s is the Kampachi Poke Tower.

Another favorite preparation, frequently offered as an evening special at Huggo’s, Schloss says is the Whole Roasted Kampachi. “Ahi may always remain the go-to favorite of visitors to Hawai`i, but kampachi is growing quickly in awareness and popularity by both locals and visitors alike,” Schloss says.   For more information visit or

Kampachi in Kona, Blue Ocean

Preserving a Fishpond—and a Food Source, and History

by Tim Ryan

Bordered by a busy boat harbor, sheltered exclusive hilltop residences and exposed to vast Kaneohe Bay, He`eia Fishpond is all but hidden in this niche of windward O`ahu—known as He`eia Uli, Ko`olaupoko. This seclusion may well have both protected the 88-acre cultural treasure from overfishing and contributed to its deterioration, because no one noticed its relentless punishment by wind, waves, neglect and invasive mangrove.

“Even I wasn’t aware of this pond and my `ohana is from this community in Kahalu`u,” said Hi`ilei Kawelo, executive director of Paepae o He`eia since 2007. The organization works in partnership with the landowner, Kamehameha Schools, to manage and maintain He`eia Fishpond for the community. “I was blown away when I was introduced to this place.”

But not completely in a good way.

As important to Kawelo and the group of young Hawaiian friends was “the lack of Hawaiian presence” at such a significant cultural structure. It wasn’t long after that first visit that that the group of idealists created the nonprofit Paepae o He`eia “dedicated to caring for He`eia Fishpond.”

“I was young and full of energy,” she said. “Nothing is impossible when you’re in your early 20s. My closest and best friends were in this with me. It was really an ohana effort.”

Heeia Fishpond fish farmingOn this typical windward cloudy and drippy spring day, a large truck from Nanakuli delivers a load of coral and lava rocks, many weighing more than 100 pounds. The bimonthly deliveries are used to replenish the fishpond’s walls where rocks have tumbled into the shallow pond and are buried by sediment or washed into the ocean only to disappear or, in the case of coral, pounded into sand.

Several beefy men and some not so big separate the coral and lava rocks, stacking them into massive piles. The material will be placed on small flatbed trucks, then driven around the Kailua side of the wall for rebuilding. Where road access is not available, the rocks are delivered on small, floating barges. These are taken to the makai wall where the greatest deterioration has occurred—a 200-foot section of fishpond wall that’s been collapsing for decades.

He`eia Fishpond is a walled-style (kuapā) fishpond enclosing brackish water. The kuapā is built on the fringing reef that extends from the shoreline, surrounding the pond out into Kaneohe Bay.

Built approximately 600 to 800 years ago by the residents of the area, the kuapā is possibly the longest in the island chain, measuring about 1.3 miles (7,000 feet), and forms a complete circle around the pond. This is unique, since most other fishpond walls are either straight lines or half circles connecting one point of shoreline to another, Kawelo said.

“It’s like a kapuna presented us with the biggest challenge,” she said, laughing. “The fishpond with the most amount of wall that needs to be restored.”

In the 12 years since the organization was founded, about 3,000 feet of wall has been restored at a rate of 300 to 400 feet per year. First stage was to remove thousands of invasive and tangled mangroves. The plant not only destroys the walls when its roots entangle in the rocks and coral but also collects sediment around the perimeter.

Removing the mangrove is backbreaking work and all done by hand with the use of the chainsaws and muscle.

According to Kawelo, mangrove was introduced in Hawai`i on Moloka`i around 1900 and then on O`ahu in 1922. The Hawaii Sugar Growers Association brought it here after it saw the effects of large-scale agriculture on the land and ocean from the runoff.

The windward side of O`ahu “gets a lot of rain and anytime you get rain and exposed sediment it all goes straight into the ocean,” said Kawelo. HSGA “planted mangrove to mitigate that.”

The buildup of sediment in the fishpond also diminished the amount of oxygen there.

The pukas in the fishpond walls negated the pond’s purpose as well.

“Tides go in and out and if your pond can’t hold water [within its walls] you also can’t hold fish,” Kawelo explained.

At low tide workers are able to cut the mangrove near its base. Fortunately, the aggressive plant doesn’t grow back. No herbicides are used.

Since He`eia Fishpond is a designated historic site, there are restrictions on the kind of equipment that can be used in the restoration process.

“Paepae o He`eia prides itself in making use of the community with volunteers, which may mean doing things a bit slower but it ensures that we are investing in the community stakeholders of this pond,” Kawelo said. “We are only place holders here for a small window of time. When we’re gone we want to make sure this place is set up so we know the next generation is going to push it forward.”

The wall is composed of two separate volcanic rock walls parallel to one another on the outer edges, with the eight-foot area between them filled up with mostly coral and in some places rock and dirt. This compact style of wall slows water flow, allows the pond to maintain a base water level even at the lowest tides, and forces more water to the six mākāhā or sluice gates. Three of the mākāhā are along the seaward edge to regulate saltwater input; three more along He`eia Stream regulate fresh water input.

On this day about a dozen Nanakuli High School students are moving dozens of mangrove branches from a just-cleared makai section of the pond to be used for a Hawaiian structure on the leeward campus.

Covered in dirt and mud and noticeably tired but smiling, some walk atop the wall itself while others trek through the pond which on an average tide is about two and a half feet deep.

Hawaiian fishponds are unique and sophisticated forms of aquaculture found nowhere else in the world, Kawelo said.

The techniques of trapping adult fish with rocks in shallow tidal areas is found elsewhere but the six styles of Hawaiian fishponds, especially large walled ponds, were technologically advanced and efficient as their purpose was to cultivate baby fish to maturity.

This invention resulted from Hawaiians’ understanding of the environmental processes specific to the islands as well as their connection and observation of the food resources on the āina and in the ocean.

In Hawaiian literature, fishponds were associated with events during the 14th through 19th centuries. So it is possible that fishponds appeared in the Hawaiian Islands prior to the 14th century.

“Ocean fishing is dependent largely on weather and ocean conditions,” Kawelo said.

Since big surf, storms and other weather conditions influence and can interrupt fishing practices, fishponds provided Hawaiians with a regular supply of fish when ocean fishing was not possible or did not yield sufficient numbers.

At one time there were about 400 fishponds in Hawai`i with O`ahu having the most—about 96—the largest being the 500-plus acres in what is now Koko Marina.

By allowing both fresh and salt water to enter a pond, the environment is brackish and conducive to certain types of limu. By cultivating limu, like a rancher growing grass, the pond caretaker could easily raise herbivorous fish and not have to feed them, Kawelo said.

The fish that live in He`eia Fishpond include `ama`ama, awa, pualu, palani, aholehole, moi, kokala, kākū and papio. The fishpond is also home to a different species of papa`i, `ōpae, puhi and pipi. There also are predatory fish here such as barracuda and crabs such as Samoan crab.

“People’s tastes have become accustomed to eating predator fish like ahi, ono and mahimahi that really are rather bland, but we’re hoping we can alter that a bit to the more flavorful herbivorous varieties,” she said.

(To produce one pound of herbivore fish takes much less energy than a pound of carnivorous fish, which constantly need to consume other fish so there’s a lot of energy loss.)

Kawelo is concerned that a state surrounded by water has to import more than 60% of its fish.

“Hawai`i is the largest consumer of seafood per capita in the United States,” she said. “Our ancestors created and made very good use of traditional aquaculture.”

There isn’t an accurate method at this point to calculate how many fish are in He`eia Fishpond since a section of wall is open to the ocean.

“Historically, the lower estimate was 200 pounds of fish per acre per year; the higher estimate was 500 pounds multiplied by He`eia’s 88 acres,” she said.

Paepae o He`eia recognizes that He`eia Pond will never “feed the state of Hawai`i.”

“The pond had been created to feed a very specific small geographic community that housed the ahupua`a of He`eia, about 2,000 people,” Kawelo said. “It wasn’t the sole source of protein but more of a supplement and they would stockpile fish in the pond, creating a reserve.”

The organization’s annual budget is $500,000 to $600,000, most of which pays 10 employees, including six full time. All monies come from fundraising.

“We’re really cheap when it comes to materials,” she said. “All we need is rock and coral.”

Kawelo estimates He`eia Fishpond’s remaining 4,000 feet of damaged wall will be restored within 15 years, including three to five years to repair the wall along He`eia Stream.

“We hope the Field of Dreams phenomena occurs,” she said. “We build it and the fish will come.”

Heeia Fishponds gate 2

To Catch Uhu, Be an A‘ama: Traditional Hawaiian Fishing Methods

by Kainoa Horcajo

“Stay low. Crouch down. Look the a`ama crab, how it moves on the rocks. You gotta be the a`ama, move like the a`ama.”

Today we call it biomimicry, mimicking other parts of nature to solve our human problems, but to a people who survive off their connection to the ocean and the land it is just called paying attention to what works. Traditional fishing practices were varied and multitudinous as Hawaiians found almost every way possible in which to access the ocean and live off its bounty. And in the same patient and deeply connected way they divided, categorized and named every part of the ocean, its inhabitants and the various ways to secure them for your family’s next meal.

Out of the many ways Hawaiians of old invented to catch fish, by hand and string and spear and net, strangely enough the Hawaiian throw net is not one of them! But if there’s one thing that can be said about ka po`e kahiko, the people of old, it is that they were intelligent, ingenious and constantly looking to improve. So when the first Japanese immigrants came to Hawai`i in the 1800s some of them must have brought with them their practice of throw net, often called cast net outside of Hawai`i.

It didn’t take long for this practice to catch on here in the islands. So much so that many think it is a traditional Hawaiian practice, just another testament to Hawaiians’ ability to adapt new technology to their needs.

Now made for the most part from synthetic materials, throw nets come in a variety of diameters and mesh sizes. State regulations mandate throw nets must have at least a two-inch mesh, the size of the holes in the net. Regardless of the diameter, it needs to be a perfect circle, with weights around its border to ensnare the fish.

Whether you can actually throw the net so it forms that circle when it lands is another story. There is a certain way to prepare, or load, the net in preparation to throw it. This is nearly impossible to describe without seeing it done. And even when seeing it with your own eyes, it looks deceptively simple for what is truly a delicate and practiced process.

Any hiccup in the grasping and looping of the net in your hand, in the parsing of the sections of net onto and across your body and both arms, or in the full-body rotation as you toss and release the net towards its intended target means the net will not open correctly. To spend so much time physically making this net only to misthrow and have it snag on rock or reef would cause immeasurable frustration. And so the wise man waits, and observes, and learns.

Says Kelson Kihe, a Hawaiian fisherman on Maui, “You gotta know the ocean, and the reef, and the tides, and the way the water moves over the rock. And you gotta know the waves; count and time the waves. You gotta know the fish; see the fins pop up, the color under the water, how they move.”

So, mimicking nature, you take the time to observe, to understand and connect with your surroundings. You try to release the mistaken thought that you are separate from nature. Kihe, like many, learned to throw net from their `ohana; fishing families who adopted this once-Japanese tradition and made it uniquely Hawaiian. “Plenty different kinds of fish to catch with throw net,” Kihe notes. Some favorites are uo uo, moi, manini, kupipi, kala, weke, ahole, nenue and the prized uhu. The uhu, of all the fish, was the most difficult to catch with the throw net and required the slow, dedicated stalking and low crouch of the a`ama crab.

It is said that the uhu are so smart, they can see your skin through the surface of the water, that they can smell you as soon as you step into the ocean. It is said that they are so intelligent they can feel the vibrations of you running on the rocks and will evade capture almost all the time. So you crouch like the a`ama. You stay low, knees bent, net draped over you, entire body flexed and ready. The a`ama doesn’t move fast all the time; it carefully creeps across the black lava rock, timing its movement with the oncoming waves. Using the whitewater as camouflage, it moves with the ocean surges.

And so do you, hiding behind the rock, as much sensing the movements of the uhu as he is sensing yours. And when the wave crashes, sending cloudy, speckled sea foam across the surface of the water, you spring. Twisting upwards and outwards, methodically releasing and unfurling the throw net, allowing it to open into a circle, it sinks its weights around tonight’s dinner. Tonight, the a`ama eats uhu.

Throwing a Fish Net