Transitioning Traditional Hawaiian Fishponds Into Aquaculture Enterprises

Heeia Fishpond

Oceanic Institute of HPU in partnership with Conservation International was recently awarded a NOAA Saltonsall-Kennedy grant for $284,000 to help revitalize Hawaiian Fishponds. Director of the Finfish Program and affiliate faculty Chad Callan, Ph.D., is the principal investigator for the project. Paepae o He‘eia is a local fishpond partner. 

Fishpond production in Hawai‘i has steadily declined over the past two hundred years. In the early 1900s, the US Fish Commission documented approximately 680,000 pounds of seafood delivered to Hawaiʻi markets from more than 100 fishponds. By the late 1970s, however, only 28 ponds were suitable for production and by 1985 only seven ponds were in commercial or subsistence use. 

Today in Hawaii, local communities and grassroots nonprofit organizations are working together across the state to restore traditional fishponds for cultural, educational, and food production purposes. Loko I‘a  (fishpond) represent a unique nexus of environmental, cultural, and economic interests; as such they offer an incredible opportunity for realizing the promise of Hawai‘i’s sustainable future. Fishponds offer opportunities to restore and revitalize cultural sites and practices; rebuild coastal and estuarine function; educate youth, residents and visitors through experiential learning; prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change; and provide community food security and resiliency.

This project is developing key information on operational and logistical models for production, through a robust research effort that assesses water quality, stocking densities and survivability, growth rates based on naturally occurring food in the ponds, predator exclusion and control, costs and constrains for mullet fingerling production and transportation, and other production aspects.

There is a vital need to develop culturally and economically viable business models and the capacity at fishponds to implement these models for greater social, cultural, and environmental returns. Additionally, as more traditional Hawaiian fishponds are approaching a fully-restored, fully-functioning status, the next challenge is developing these fishponds into viable aquaculture enterprises that produce food for local communities, as well as revenue to support their educational and cultural programs.