Category: Summer 2013

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

Not So Sour: Lemons in Hawai‘i

by Ken Love

Lemons are just beginning to get the respect they deserve and in Hawai`i we’re fortunate enough to have a large number of varieties to grow, market and use for a massive number of culinary creations. There are almost 14 million tons grown worldwide, with India and Mexico the largest producers. In Hawai`i we grow and sell less than 100,000 pounds and still import almost 4 million pounds. Pretty shameful considering how lemons go to waste in the state.

Most who study horticulture think the lemon originated in northern India as a naturally occurring hybrid between sour orange and a citron. Lemon made its way to Italy in 200 AD then Iraq and Egypt by 700 AD. By the end of the 12th century it had spread all around the Mediterranean. In 1493, Columbus brought it to Hispaniola and from there it went with the Spanish to California in 1751. Don Francisco de Paula Marin first brought lemon to Hawai`i in 1813 with other varieties coming in 1823 with traders.

Early territorial reports from 1904 to 1906, including a USDA Citrus in Hawai`i publication, listed Eureka and Lisbon varieties. These and other publications mention Villa Franca and Sicily, which I’ve yet to be able to identify in Hawai`i. The rough Jambiri came as a rootstock in the 1920s and started to produce prolifically by 1934 when the grafts died off. Ponderosa and its seedling American Wonder and a sweet lemon were all mentioned by 1934.

Often called “local lemon,” Rangpur and Kona are actually orange-colored limes.

The Rangpur lime came to Hawai`i as a rootstock but those grafts also died off. Over the next 175 years the trees evolved so that Rangpur has a puffy orange skin and very thorny branches. Its offshoot that is now called Kona lime has a tight skin and very few thorns.

There is also a primitive subgenus of citrus called Papedas, some of which also came to Hawai`i as rootstocks and now produce here. Ichang papeda is often mistakenly called or sold as Japanese Yuzu. Yuzu, however, also fits into this subgenus as does Suidachi, Yuko, Kabosu, Khasi, Melanesian, Kalpi and the popular Kaffir lime.

Kalpi (Citrus webberii)

Kalpi is arguably one of the most common lemons in Hawai`i. A natural hybrid found in the Philippines, one could only presume that it came here with the immigrants. The name comes from the Bicol region of southern Luzon. These trees are found all over the state and very prolific. They are often confused with small Italian lemons that are very recent imports and the larger rough-skinned Jambiri lemon. Kalpi is sometimes called Malayan lemon.

Here are some popular varieties:

Meyer (Citrus x meyeri)

The lemon was first found on a fruit-hunting trip by Frank N. Meyer, who was sent to China by the USDA’s David Fairchild. Of the more than 2,500 species Meyer introduced to the United States, this is the only one that bears his name. The Meyer lemon has dramatically increased in popularity over the past 20 years in part due to Alice Waters and Martha Stewart featuring them. They do very well in warmer climates like Hawai`i where other lemons may struggle with the heat.

The improved Meyer lemon is a selection found in the 1950s that is resistant to tristeza virus. It was released in 1975 as an improved version. Ever-increasing in popularity, it is sometimes referred to as the Sweetheart citrus.

Sweet Lemon (C. limetta Risso)

Called sweet lemons and, to a lesser extent, limes, this fruit found in some areas of Hawai`i. “Sweet” is somewhat of a misnomer as the fruit is generally insipid with only a very slight taste. A number of varieties were introduced from India and later Brazil and Mexico but they have never achieved any commercial value. The fruit is not without fans and there are a few named cultivars.

Jambiri (Citrus Jambhiri)

This rough-skinned lemon, originally from northeast India, was commonly used as a rootstock for citrus coming to Hawaii. Those grafts died off and the tree became a popular backyard tree. Recent studies, using molecular markers, show that it is a cross between mandarin and citron. The tree is somewhat resistant to a host of pathogens and extremely resistant to leaf spot although sensitive to Phytopthora and waterlogged roots. It is tolerant of both cold and Hawaii’s hotter than average, for citrus, climate. Its unclear if the fruit arrived in Hawaii with Marin in the early 1800s or later with the first Portuguese immigrants. The Spaniards are credited with bringing the fruit to Florida and the new World. There are a number of named cultivars; Estes, Milam, McKillop, Nelspruit 15 and Lockyer although it’s not known if these are in Hawaii. About 98% of the seeds planted are true to form and the tree is fast growing and early maturing. Some texts list the Volkamer or volckameriana lemon as being a type of Jambiri. Rangpur and Kona lime is also given the Jambiri name at times.

Ponderosa (Citrus limon)

Ponderosa and its protégé American Wonder are among the most popular lemons grown in Hawai`i. Elsewhere it’s considered an ornamental because of thick foliage and very large “showy” fruit. It came from a seedling grown in 1887 by George Bowman in Hagerstown, Maryland. It appeared in many nursery catalogs in the early 1900s. Sometimes classed as a citron hybrid, ponderosa fruit is extremely large. It has been confused with pummelo at some of Hawai`i’s farmers’ markets, although one taste makes it is obvious that it’s a lemon. There are some commercial plantings and the tree is often used as a rootstock for other lemons.

Eureka (Citrus limon)

The first Eureka originated from seed in 1858 in Los Angeles and was propagated in 1877 by Thomas Garey, who called it Garey’s Eureka. Its popularity rapidly increased, in part due to the tree being virtually thornless. The University of California lists 14 types of Eureka lemons. Depending on the source, Hawai`i seems to have a few of these: Old Line, Frost Nucellar, Allen-Newman and the Variegated Pink-Fleshed Eureka. The pink came from a shoot from a regular Eureka prior to 1931 when budwood was distributed. Pink Lemonade Eureka has become very popular in Hawai`i over the past 20 years.

Lisbon (Citrus limon)

Perhaps the most popular commercial lemon next to Eureka, its relationship to Hawai`i has always been marginal as it produces much better in cooler areas. The trees are more cold tolerant. The tree is most productive in California. Thick foliage better protects fruit from the sun. The thorns are considerable. The yield is about 25% greater than Eureka.

There is some disagreement as to the origin of Lisbon. What is known was that seeds were sent Portugal to Australia in 1924. The name Lisbon is not used for the lemon in Portugal. It was listed in nursery catalogs as early as 1843. It was introduced to California in 1849 and again from Australia in 1874 and 1875. Although continuously imported to Hawai`i, Eureka seems to be more popular. The University of California lists 12 types of Lisbons.

There are hundreds of other lemons around the world, which have not made their way to Hawai`i. With citrus greening disease (HLB) in many locations around the world, it’s doubtful many of these will ever come to Hawai`i. Lemons and lemon hybrids like Sicily, Femminello, Genova, Monachello, Perrine, Marrakech, Pear, Galgal, Karna, Sanbokan and Snow should be found in HLB-free areas or tissue cultured and given a chance to thrive in Hawai`i’s microclimates. Each of these unusual varieties represents a potential for niche marketing as fresh fruit or in value-added products for Hawai`i’s agriculture entrepreneurs.

Lemons in Hawaii

The Fishermen of Mama’s Fish House

by Heidi Pool

These Guys Are the ‘Reel Deal’

“Good morning, fishroom.” Mike Pascher, head fish cutter for Mama’s Fish House, fields phone calls from fishermen while deftly butchering a glistening, burgundy-fleshed bigeye tuna. “They call me right from their boats,” Mike tells me. “Sometimes I can hear the reel ratchets whirring in the background.”

Mama’s Fish House in Ku`au serves 1,000 customers daily, requiring Mike to purchase some 500 pounds of fish every day—most of it from Maui fishermen. “We wrote checks to 200 fishermen last year. Some came once; some came every week,” he says.

Executive Chef Perry Bateman stops by the fishroom to see how the day’s procurements are going. He tells me there are two types of fishermen: “heavies” and “lights.” “For ‘heavies,’ that’s their entire livelihood,” he says. “They fish every day to provide for their `ohana [family]. ‘Lights’ are weekend fishermen—they crack a beer and relax. If they catch, they catch; if not, no worries. It’s more of a hobby for them.”

Greg Lind from remote Hana town is a “heavy.” Greg and his family follow the traditional Hawaiian lifestyle of fishing, farming and raising cattle. He fishes his homeport of Hana Bay in his 25-foot boat, which he recently renamed Kaihawanawana after his 1-year-old daughter. He mostly fishes alone, although his 4-year-old son, also named Greg, accompanies him on weekends. He makes the 50-plus-mile drive to Ku`au on the infamous Hana Highway several times a week.

This morning, Greg backs his white Chevy flatbed truck up to the dock at Mama’s and offloads yesterday’s catch—mahimahi and ono—into a voluminous dark blue bin that Mike has placed on a rolling cart. Inside the fishroom, Mike, with the help of an assistant, hefts the bin onto a giant scale and weighs each species, noting the poundages in his spiral notebook: 78.4 pounds of mahimahi and 32.2 pounds of ono. He ducks into his cubbyhole of an office in a corner of the fishroom, prints out a check and hands it to a beaming Greg. As far as fishermen go, there’s no “Net 30” at Mama’s.

Quiet and unassuming, Greg tells me he’s learned a valuable lesson over the years: “Don’t call Mama’s until you’re done fishing for the day. Somehow, as soon as I make that call, the fish stop biting.” Greg’s next stop before returning home is to fill up with gas in nearby Pa`ia, where the price is currently $4.55 a gallon. “It’s $5.55 in Hana—I have a 50-gallon tank, so that saves me almost 50 bucks,” he says with a shy smile.

The next fisherman to bring in his catch is Jamie DeBussey, who primarily fishes off Maui’s north shore in his 21-foot vessel Blessed. Jamie moved to Maui from Florida in 1992 to surf. “I was a pro surfer,” he says. “I never dreamed I’d become a commercial fisherman.” But in 1995, he got hooked on windfishing (trolling while windsurfing), saved money from his job at a surf shop and bought his first boat—a 12-footer. A few years later, he built a 16-foot blue boat he never named. “It was such a ‘ghetto boat’ it wasn’t even worth naming,” he says. “People thought I was nuts for fishing 50 miles offshore in that boat all by myself,” he says. “I became known as the crazy guy in the little blue boat.”

A deeply spiritual man, Jamie believes a higher power watches over him every time he goes out fishing. “Deep-sea fishing is one of the deadliest occupations,” he says. Since he fishes alone, Jamie ties himself to his boat with a heavy-duty bungee cord and makes sure he’s always near the engine’s kill switch. A few years ago, he was fishing near Hana when a fierce wind came up and huge waves were breaking all around him. “I was icing my fish when an eight- to 10-footer [wave] hit my boat,” he recalls. “The boat started rolling over, so I quickly moved to high side. I knew at that moment I was in serious trouble—one more wave would roll me completely over. The engine was sputtering, and after what seemed like forever, the bilge pump kicked in. I was bailing like mad with a bucket, too, and it still took over an hour to pump out all the water.”

Today, Mike pays Jamie for 38.4 pounds of mahimahi. “You have to be obsessed to be a commercial fisherman,” Jamie says. “It’s almost like a sickness—like a young kid who wants to surf every day.”

At 35 years old, Layne Nakagawa is one of the youngest commercial fishermen on Maui, and one of only four bottom fishers. He started fishing when he was 4 years old with his father and grandfather. “I was practically raised at the harbor,” he says. His elders were demanding taskmasters, and he learned his craft well: “You can’t screw up on a boat—there’s nowhere to run,” Layne jokes.

Layne began fishing commercially while still in high school. Although he fishes alone on his 31-foot boat, named Naomi K. for his mother, he and other bottom fishers share information on wind patterns, ocean currents and moon phases, to determine where the best fishing is on a given day. “Bottom fishing is a highly skilled occupation,” he says. “You have to throw your anchor accurately within a hundred feet or so, and it’s all about pinpointing the right spot. The fish won’t come if you’re on the wrong side of the spot.”

Layne serves on the advisory board of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, which, among other objectives, protects fish stocks and habitats, and collects data to help determine how many fish are in the ocean. In addition to 27 pounds of opakapaka, today Layne has brought in a magnificent 20.8-pound long-tailed red snapper (onaga), caught at a depth of between 700 and 900 feet near the island of Kaho`olawe. Layne estimates the fish was well over 60 years old, and its brilliant scarlet hue is complemented by distinctive caudal fins that end in long, slender points. It’s the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen.

“Mama’s Fish House gives us an opportunity to contribute to fishery science,” says Layne. Fish cutter Sean Asuncion has extracted the onaga’s reproductive organs so its sex can be determined (this one is a female who has already spawned, according to Layne), and will soon remove the otolith so the fish’s age can be verified. “The otolith is a structure in the inner ear where calcium carbonate is deposited throughout the fish’s life cycle, forming rings—much like tree rings,” Layne says. “By counting the rings, it’s possible to determine the age of the fish.”

After all fish business has been transacted for today, Mike goes back to the computer in his tiny office and updates the restaurant’s menu to reflect what the fishermen have brought in. Greg Lind’s ono will be served in a ti leaf, with coconut rice and papaya salsa; Layne Nakagawa’s onaga will be sautéed with Hamakua mushrooms, garlic butter, white wine and capers.

In May, Mama’s Fish House became the first private business in Hawai`i to fund a fish aggregation device—a deep-sea buoy that attracts pelagic species targeted by commercial, subsistence and recreational fishermen—for the benefit of all Maui fishermen, not just those who fish for Mama’s. “Mama’s asked me to build the buoy myself,” says Layne. “How could I say ‘no’? Mama’s has been supporting my business for 17 years.” Launched 30 miles off the coast near Ha`iku, Layne says the buoy will take the concept of sustainability in a whole new direction.

Chef Perry hopes other businesses will follow suit and fund additional community buoys. “There are plenty of fish out there,” he says. “Even if we had a hundred buoys, we’d never deplete the supply. Let’s all come together as a community to benefit everyone.”

Fishermen of Mama's Fish House

Cooking Fresh with Sous-Chef Allan Nagun

His cuisine is featured at the Bay Terrace Restaurant.

Chef Allan Nagun, sous-chef at Bay Terrace at Mauna Lani Bay, is known for his poke, almost more than any other dish on his menus. While he often experiments with modern takes on this popular Hawaiian pupu, it’s his traditional poke that earns him acclaim, including being recognized as “the one to beat” at the annual Hawai`i Island Festival poke competition.

Chef Nagun has access to superior-quality yellowfin tuna found in the warm waters of the Pacific along the Kona coast. He predominantly combines his poke with Hawaiian sea salt, limu (seaweed), shoyu, sesame oil, Hawaiian chili pepper, ginger and `inamona (roasted, ground kukui nut).

Chef Nagun started developing poke dishes in his childhood, based on the best and freshest ingredients available. In addition to yellowfin tuna, his poke creations feature tako (octopus), lomi salmon and even tofu poke. As when he was a child, still today he draws inspiration from the different ethnic groups that comprise Hawai`i’s culture, whether it’s incorporating Korean kimchee sauces or Chinese flavors such as sesame oil.

While Chef Nagun loves the opportunity to express his creativity through food, he is a firm believer that when you have superior-quality ingredients, you don’t have to do much to them.

Poke is more than just a delicious pupu, he believes. It’s a celebration of Hawaiian culture that continues to evolve. It’s synonymous with the Hawaiian values of sharing with friends and family.


Chef Allan Nagun only lists the ingredients, as the art of his poke is balancing the ingredients with the texture of the fresh catch he is preparing his poke from.



• Large-dice ahi

• Limu kohu

• Hawaiian salt

• Opihi (limpets)

• Tako (octopus)

• Uni (sea urchin)



• Medium-dice ahi

• Sweet soy glaze

• Jalapeño peppers

• Tobiko (fish eggs)

• Maui onion

• Green onion

• Crushed Hawaiian chili

• Togarashi



• Shredded daikon

• Green onion

• Yuzu-flavored tobiko

• Kaiware sprouts

• Togarashi

• Ponzu sauce


Seeds of Hope: A Film About Farming in Hawai‘i

By Jon Letman

It’s a well-known fact that Hawai`i imports nearly 90% of its food. Owing to geographic isolation and a heavy reliance on these imports, people in the islands are keenly aware of what could happen to the state’s food supply if transportation lines were disrupted. Greater recognition of this vulnerability has fueled a movement of people who aren’t just talking about breaking Hawai`i’s import addiction, but are paving the way to a stronger, healthier, more food-secure tomorrow.

Now their story is being told in a feature length documentary called Seeds of Hope (Nā Kupu Mana`olana). Several years ago board members of the Hawai`i Rural Development Council (HRDC), a nonprofit that supports the economic and social welfare of rural communities, decided that the best way to raise awareness of the need for greater self-sufficiency was to make a film.

The 87-minute documentary was written and directed by Hawai`i Island–based filmmaker (and former HRDC member) Danny Miller. He describes Seeds as a vision of how 21st century Hawai`i is answering the challenges of food security by drawing upon its own traditions, historical understanding of the land, and people who recognize the need to cooperate with nature in order to survive.

In 2009, Miller began three years of speaking with dozens of farmers, ranchers, gardeners, educators and local food advocates across the state. He says he was moved by how many people in Hawai`i already “get it” and are making the shift toward food sovereignty.

A more sustainable food future for Hawai`i, Miller says, is rooted in its past. He points to the Hawaiian land management system based on ahupua`a land divisions that fed a pre-contact population comparable or greater than today.

HRDC Chair Alan Murakami says the making of Seeds helped him appreciate how Hawai`i’s resource base already contributes to sustaining small communities by growing their own crops, hunting and fishing. He hopes the film will advance the discussion of food security.

“We’ve got basically no warehousing except for those containers on the ocean between California and Hawai`i. If something happens to that pipeline, we’re out of food,” Murakami says.

For Seeds co-executive producer Kevin Chang, one of the most poignant moments in the film is when Moloka`i activist Walter Ritte describes paddling away from the island until he can look back and see the physical limits to available resources.

“In a lot of ways people on the continent aren’t able to appreciate that perspective, but there’s a lot to learn about what a small system like Hawai`i is doing to deal with these issues. People say the Earth is an island … it’s just that you can’t see it until you actually look at an island on the Earth.”

Like her fellow HRDC board members, Seeds co-executive producer Mona Bernardino hopes the film drives home the point that everyone in Hawai`i needs to support the farmers by buying locally grown produce. The filmmakers hope the movie forces people in Hawai`i to consider what kind of agriculture they want to support.

Seeds brings together a diversity of voices from small family-owned farms and organic farmers to multi-national biotech giants like Monsanto and even a Hawaiian professor who led the production of GMO papayas. In doing so, the film raises questions about whether remaining agricultural lands, infrastructure and vital resources like water should be used strictly for growing food to feed people here or for producing experimental genetically engineered seeds for export and other crops for biofuels or other nonfood items.

“That balance is going to be critical to whether we achieve greater food security,” Murakami says.

Seeds of Hope is proof that talk of food security is not merely pie-in-the-sky. The more than 45 people Miller interviewed for the film—the farmers, ranchers, teachers and community leaders—are the real deal and they’re creating Hawai`i’s food future.

They are people like Kamuela Enos, a director at MA`O Organic Farms in Wai`anae. Enos says Seeds speaks to more than simple questions of sustainability but also examines the depth and complexity of Hawai`i’s community-based food systems. He believes the film can spark discussions about environmental and social justice and sovereignty—both cultural and community—and about revitalizing indigenous agricultural models.

On Kaua`i, lifelong farmer Jerry Ornellas says Seeds of Hope imparts a wealth of knowledge from people who aren’t just what he calls “Google experts” but from people who live and breathe agriculture. He says the film has broad appeal because its topics are universal and, in an increasingly urbanized world, “people everywhere are in interested where there food is coming from.”

During a recent visit to the East Coast, Ornellas noticed that people in large urban areas had the same interest in local food and farming as people in Hawai`i. A major difference, he says, is that in Hawai`i everyone can grow food year-round, even if it’s just something small in a backyard garden or on a lānai. “If nothing else, gardening teaches you what farmers have to deal with,” he says.

Director Danny Miller sees plenty of reason for optimism. “It’s happening now. This shift, away from imported food dependence to a future where we have control over our own food sources, is coming—and it will come—from the people. It’s really a grassroots movement, in every way.” Making this move will mean Hawai`i is better off economically, environmentally and socially, says Miller. “I believe the people will lead and, eventually, the government will follow.

Big Island farmer and educator Nancy Redfeather also appears in the film. She says support by State agencies like the Department of Education is imperative to the success of transitioning to a more sustainable food model. Redfeather, director of the Hawai`i Public Seed Initiative (a project of the Kohala Center), says the State has a key role in making sure land and water are available for small farmers and that it invests financial resources in the education of future farmers.

Besides maintaining higher standards of land stewardship, Redfeather says it’s critical to have children in school seed-to-table garden programs beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school and college.

Redfeather believes part of the solution may be to, instead of having one 1,300-acre farm, strive for 1,300 one-acre farms which is closer to the traditional Hawaiian model.

“When Captain Cook sailed into Kealakekua Bay, his botanist recorded looking up on a hillside of green, small gardens where the Hawaiians grew food for what is thought to have been 100,000 people that might have lived on the Kona Coast of Hawai`i Island.”

Watching a film like Seeds of Hope is important, Redfeather says. “Sometimes when you know the story, it influences your behavior.” She hopes the film will inspire the government to support a farming renaissance that is rising from the community. “This is an opportunity now. It’s not something that needs to be created—it’s already there.”

“We don’t have to gather more research,” says Redfeather. “We just need to act and that takes will, intention, direction and focus. It seems like we should be able to do it. This is really a time to act.”

Learn more about Seeds of Hope (Nā Kupu Mana`olana)at and watch it on PBS Hawai`i in September 2013.

Seeds of Hope: A Film About Farming

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