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The Ups and Downs of Traditional Hawaiian Fishponds

Community Contributed

By Walter Ritte

Up: Eight hundred years ago, traditional Hawaiian fishponds doubled the food capacity of the existing reefs, helping the ahupua`a system to feed hundreds of thousands of Hawaiians in a sustainable fashion.

Down: After Western contact in 1776, the Hawaiians, their culture, and fishponds use declined dramatically. By the 1980s, raising fish in the ponds was almost nonexistent – “highest and best use” was declared, and the ponds became marinas, parks, housing, navel facilities, harbors, bird sanctuaries, hotels and millionaire estates.

Up: In the 1990s Molokai led a state wide effort to protect and restore traditional Hawaiian fishponds. With the strong support of Sen. Dan Inouye and Gov. John Waihe`e, highest and best use was replaced with “traditional use” of these of these cultural treasures. In March of 2011, hundreds of fishpond operators and supporters from all islands came to Molokai to kuka kuka and organize themselves.

Down: A week later in March, the Japan tsunami hit many ponds in Hawaii including ones on the east end of Molokai. Some of the ponds were just recently restored, which required many years of hard work by strong young backs of our younger generation.

Three days later, on March 14, the walls of Keawanui fishpond were being restored after being totally destroyed. Some fifty volunteers have already put in valued restoration hours answering the kahea for kokua. Today the students of Ho`omana Hou School proudly harvested 34 pounds of oysters they placed in plastic baskets 10 months ago. It has been a very long time since aquaculture has been successful in Keawanui fishpond…we hope this small harvest will become a sustained “big ups” for traditional Hawaiian fishponds, and once again help bring food security to Hawaii.    


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