The sea has always been essential to the Hawaiian way of life, playing a critical role in cultural heritage, recreation, and basic survival. Over 90 percent of people in Hawai‘i regularly consume seafood — three times the average per capita consumption on the U.S. mainland.
Hawaii’s coral reefs are valued at $10 billion, with ocean-dependent businesses generating $4.8 billion annually — yet our waters are also critically threatened by forces such as coastal development, pollution, and destructive fishing practices. At the same time, many effective traditional ocean management practices have been lost among younger generations in Hawai‘i, due in part to a centralized resource management approach that disconnects resource users and resources from management decisions.
Facing these challenges, we at CI’s Hawai‘i Fish Trust
program hope to turn the tide and improve Hawaii’s nearshore marine ecosystem health.
To share knowledge and revive local interest in sustainable ocean management, the Hawai‘i Fish Trust has supported lawai‘a ‘ohana fish camps for the past three summers. “Lawai‘a” means “fisherman” and “‘ohana” means “family.”
“The main objective of these camps is “E ‘ai kekahi e kāpī i kekahi” — “to eat some and to leave some” — or to promote sustainable fishing and gathering practices while bringing families together, passing on traditional knowledge from one generation to the next through hands-on learning experiences,” said Kēhau Springer, the Hawai‘i Fish Trust’s fishing community partnership specialist.
Children of all ages, along with their parents and grandparents, can attend a lawai‘a camp in their community to learn about topics such as:
- sustainable fishing methods;
- preparing and cooking fish;
- marine policy, including traditional rules of their area;
- how land-based activities can affect their fisheries; and
- the stories, songs and cultural traditions that are unique to their community.
Each year, the Hawai‘i Fish Trust provides funding and technical support for lawai‘a camps to several fishing communities across the state. Once selected, each community plans and organizes its own unique lawai‘a camp. The duration and content of the camp vary from one community to the next. Some camps may take place on a weekend, others for an entire week. One camp may emphasize the importance of ‘opihi — Hawaiian limpets — to their community, while another may highlight ‘opelu — mackerel scad — as a critical food species for their area.
Several weeks ago, a local non-profit group Hui Maka'ainana o Makana hosted a lawai'a ‘ohana camp on Kaua‘i with more than 35 participants. Kupuna — community elders — and other community members led activities including making bamboo fishing poles and learning how to rig and use them, making and using a throw net, cleaning fish, and learning about fish reproductive cycles to help fishers determine the time of year and size at which they should harvest certain species. Participants also talked to the local Department of Land and Natural Resources officer about fishing rules and regulations.
By supporting lawai‘a ‘ohana camps, we are helping to enhance community-based nearshore marine stewardship, while also promoting traditional Hawaiian fisheries knowledge and pono (responsible) fishing practices — ensuring that the deep understanding and connection to the ocean is never lost in Hawai‘i.
Erin Crouch is CI’s marine coordinator on O‘ahu. She works on the Hawai‘i Fish Trust and the Coral Triangle Initiative program from CI's only domestic outpost, Hawai‘i.