In Hawaiian legend, menehune would emerge at night scurrying from the hillside down to the sea where they would build fishponds with lava rock, welcoming the fish at high tide and trapping them at low tide. Grates of sticks allowed the smaller fish to swim in and out freely while the hungrier fish would fatten up, making them unable to pass through the grate’s narrow space that leads to the open sea.
These fish ponds, and those built by Hawaiians themselves, are still seen on the islands today. Some are just remnants of times long ago while others like Miloli’i on Hawaii Island are still maintained by the community. Throwing net, spear fishing, and casting are popular pastimes in the island chain, having been passed down generation by generation.
Coastal communities world-wide have a seafaring tradition of some type. Recognizing the robust resource the ocean has to offer, humans have long relied on the gifts of the sea for sustenance. We built boats, baited traps, wove nets, threw lines, and launched spears, constantly innovating ways to source seafood.
And we got good. Too good.
Over time, the efficiency of our inventions - and our appetites - began to outpace our resource. Traditional fishing practices had always been an exercise in sustainability. We took what we needed, no more, no less. We got the nutrition we craved and the underwater population was largely unaffected. But as fishing technology and our global population boomed, the sea could not keep up.
Recognizing this, a movement to return to sustainable fishing has begun to take hold. Oftentimes, this means a return to the practices of our ancestors. Smaller boats, deep sea fishing, and gear like spears, harpoons, and simple line-and-hook all fall into the traditional category - designating them as the environmentally preferable solution.
On Kauai, local fishery Ekahi Market shows how it can be done :“‘Ekahi was built on the inspiration of honoring homegrown practices while giving back to our community and local businesses,” say the canned tuna producers. Their production is all on-island, from start to finish. Blending local know-how with manpower from Kauai’s established fishing community, Ekahi is able to provide sustainably caught tuna by the can. Their minimal impact ensures the longevity of marine resources, from which nontraditional fisheries digress. They recognize the importance of ohana, community, and tradition - making them our top choice in ahi by the can.
Striking a balance between homegrown tradition without over-exerting our environment can be done. By sourcing from Ekahi, we get the convenience we have come to expect from our modern-day grocery stores but with the assurance that their practices are sustainable, taking only what we need and leaving plenty of fish in the sea.