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A Historic Opportunity for Lingle to Protect Ancient Fishponds

By Chris Cramer

This week Governor Lingle has an opportunity to leave a historic legacy for Hawai’i. HB 1665 protects Hawaii’s history by prohibiting sale of government owned Hawaiian fishponds. Her signature on the bill is needed because of a State Department of Transportation proposal to auction Honolulu’s last fishponds. The sale of publicly owned fishponds would set a scary precedent for ancient fishponds statewide.  This potential shift in State policy could also have many future implications for the numerous government owned fishponds on Molokai.

Currently East Honolulu’s Kalauha’iha’i Fishpond and the State interest in Kanewai Fishpond are planned for auction to the highest bidder. Strong public input is key as Governor Lingle reviews the bill. We can’t afford a return to the past. In 1975, outcry over the burning of Mokauea Island Fishing Village on Oahu successfully changed the State’s policy. Today Mokauea Fishpond has been transformed by the community into a place of learning and survives as Honolulu’s only other shoreline fishpond.

Now is the time for agencies that protect our water to speak. Selling ancient fishponds and fresh water sources during a drought hurts everyone. Fishponds are important because they were often built around springs. For centuries they supplied Hawai’i with drinking water as well as fish. At Niu, Oahu old photos show horses out by the reef drinking water flowing from Kalauha’iha’i.  Until the mid 1990’s its icy water fed the limu and fish of Maunalua Bay. Inside its ‘auwai (water channel) was the breeding area for tasty ‘opae lolo (large red shrimp) and hihiwai (fresh water opihi). The fishpond registration for Kalauha’iha’i reads like a gourmet menu. Mullet, ahole-hole, awa-awa and prawns were all listed as inhabitants.

Today, death by neglect threatens Kalauha’iha’i Fishpond. Elderly residents are often moved to tears when they see the pond that once was once part of Kamehameha’s resort home. The limestone bottom formerly seen through the fluorescent blue water is covered with silt. The board for the old mākāhā (fish gate) lies discarded in the pond and tilapia now rule its waters.

Many community organizations are pushing to take an active role to restore these fishponds. Successful fishpond restoration projects are occurring across the state. The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program recently helped sponsor a communitywide survey and visioning workshop in East Honolulu to assist community planning.  Some immediate needs are for community access to remove knee high weeds and sand choking the ‘auwai. A Honolulu City and County project to repair the sewer line which has diverted the pond’s water is also scheduled.

Far more important than fish is the impact on our local youth. Many gain lifelong math and science skills and benefit from centuries of Hawaiian knowledge and values.  New careers are also spawned as astronomy, botany and marine biology become excitingly relevant.  

As is the case with the Alekoko or Menehune Fishpond on Kauai, it is extremely challenging for communities to regain fishponds once they are outside the public trust. We can’t afford to lose our fishponds at the auction block. The Legislature unanimously passed HB 1665 prohibiting the sale of government owned Hawaiian fishponds. We need Governor Lingle to honor the people’s wishes and sign HB 1665 into law.

Chris Cramer is an educator and the president of the nonprofit  Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center. The organization has been actively working to preserve East Honolulu’s last fishponds since 2007. For more info please visit maunaluafishpondheritage.com

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