Historic Molokaʻi fishpond offers traditional methods of ensuring food security
Food security continues to be an issue around the islands, but some traditional methods are helping to build resilience. One is the restoration of fishponds.
Researchers say that before Western contact, they produced nearly 2 million pounds of fish a year. Today, 35 community groups are restoring dozens of fishponds on different islands.
With our partners at the UH Mānoa Center for Oral History, we're sharing voices of experience when it comes to managing fishponds. Our guide is ethnic studies professor Ty Kāwika Tengan.
Henry Duvauchelle was born in 1903 in Honolulu and his family moved to the island of Molokaʻi shortly after his birth. In 1918, his father Edward leased the ʻUalapuʻe Fishpond from the government and Henry learned about how to take care of the fishpond and keep it stocked with fish year-round. He was interviewed by Warren Nishimoto in Kuliʻouʻou, Oʻahu, in 1989.
DUVAUCHELLE: He had the pond to do as he pleases because there was no definite things for him to do, no restrictions whatsoever. So, he could fish the pond out if he wanted to. But he tried to stock the pond and get fish so that he could have perpetual fish when he wanted it. That was his idea. It's the old Hawaiian way of doing it. They always stocked the pond so that at least you won't fish it out, because whatever is in there is all you gonna get. Now, if you keep taking it all out and don't put any back in, you going without fish pretty soon. So, that's what they usually did, was to stock it by getting a small-meshed net and scooping up the young pua (little fish). That's after February. December, January, February, the fish come in to spawn. About March or April, the school would maybe be about 3 or 4 inches long and then they'd congregate right near shore. He'd go up with his small-meshed net, somewhat like a mosquito net, they'd scoop it up. And he'd have a skiff with him, fill the skiff up partly with salt water and then throw his pua inside of it so they keep alive, and then take the boat to the fish pond, right at the mākāhā (sluice gate), and dump these little fish out into the fish pond. And that way they stocked the pond.
William “Tubz” Kalipi Jr. was born in 1967 in Manawai, Molokaʻi, and learned how to fish and manage fishponds from his father. By the 1990s, the ʻUalapuʻe Fishpond wall had collapsed and it was overrun with mangrove. He became the manager of the fishpond in charge of its restoration. He was interviewed in 1991.
KALIPI JR.: I like the pond stay as is and try see if we can make it economic. The Hawaiians did it couple centuries ago. You know, they used to feed the whole ahupua'a when it had 10,000 people in it. So if they can do it, I think we can do 'em. With later technology, we going be raising our own puas. We can be catching fish and throwing them in here and then raising 'em. We can feed 'em. I think can work out, in economic. You got 15 acres of pond. Good exchange of water. The mākāhā is like million gallons a day exchange. Good wind. Future fishermen who like start up their ponds, and culture aspect in knowing what these ponds meant to the Hawaiians back then and trace what it means to us now. What is the different status. That was their bread and butter. This is their icebox. They not going catch 10,000 pounds of fish and ship 'em. So they going catch what they need to eat. So I going catch what I need to sell. They take only what they eat and we only going try see if we take what we can sell. I don't want to sell the fish dollar a pound and bring the price down 'cause I going be jamming up all the small fishermen. And I was one of them.
This oral history project is supported by the SHARP initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies.