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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, August 30, 2003

Influx of 'aweoweo brings scores of anglers to Windward waters

By Kalani Wilhelm
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hundreds of people have been heading to the He'eia Kea Pier to get their fill of 'aweoweo. Anglers start arriving at the pier at about 3 p.m. to reserve prime spots, and some stay late into the night to snag the nocturnal fish.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

A rare run of 'aweoweo, or "Hawaiian Bigeye," is turning Windward waters red to the delight of anglers who are reeling in thousands of the fish daily.

Swarming in numbers not seen since the 1970s, the red, bug-eyed fish have been the talk of the coast, from Hale'iwa to Kane'ohe, since their arrival four to five weeks ago. Large schools of 'aweoweo have also been spotted in Hickam Harbor and off Wai'anae.

Legend has it that big runs of 'aweoweo foreshadow the death of an ali'i or an impending storm, but to anglers, it's all about the numbers.

"Ho man, there are millions of them," said longtime angler Ron Casuga, 64, of Pearl City. "This happens once in a blue moon."

The small fish are considered a delicacy. "Hardly get any meat, but it tastes good," Casuga said.

Just before sundown Wednesday, anglers fought for space along He'eia Kea Pier in Kane'ohe, toting chairs, coolers, tackle boxes, water buckets and fishing poles.

Former Honolulu resident Calvin Hara brought his family extra early.

"I remember the run over 30 years ago when I was a kid," said Hara, who now lives in Sacramento, Calif. "We got here early to get a good spot."

By nightfall the action began, and most of the anglers planned to stay as long as the nocturnal fish were biting.

"Some stay out there until 2, 3 in the morning," said George Terayama of Nanko Fishing Supply in Kane'ohe.

Nalei Akau, 8, with brother, Kapaa, 10, who is holding up a fish, checks out a bucket of 'aweoweo while at He'eia Kea Pier. The pair were accompanied by brother, Kalani, and their father, Scott.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The hook is catching lots of fish. For Casuga, that has not been much of a challenge.

"You can use almost anything for bait and they will chomp on it," he said.

Barbara Poepoe of Kahulu'u would probably agree, having caught close to 1,000 of the fish in a few days. Poepoe, who usually fishes for 'oama, said she and a friend have been regulars at the pier since the 'aweoweo started running.

"This is just our hobby," said Poepoe. "Something like this doesn't happen every time. I probably won't be here for the next one," said the 50ish angler.

At the opposite end of the pier, 6-year old Kalani Akau was helping his father, Scott, unhook the three fish he had just reeled in. Meanwhile, his older siblings, Nalei, 8, and Kapaa, 10, were content to play with fish they had caught, sitting nearby in a bucket full of water.

"I made it a point to pick up the kids early from school and get in on the action," said Scott Akau of Kane'ohe.

Kalani didn't understand what the fuss was about, but he knew what he planned to do with his catch.

At a glance

'Aweoweo: Priacanthus meeki, also known as "Hawaiian bigeye," is an endemic Hawaiian fish.

Size: 4 to 13 inches

Where they're running: Hale'iwa, Waimea Bay, Kane'ohe Bay, Hickam Harbor, Wai'anae

Cooking options: Panfried, broiled, dried

"I'm going to give some to my friends," he said.

The last time 'aweoweo swarms of this size were noted off O'ahu was in the 1960s and 1970s, according to Clay Tam, fisheries assistant in the Aquatic Resources Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

"There have been small runs on Kaua'i but nothing of this magnitude," said Tam, who has been monitoring the recent bloom. This run started on Kaua'i in July.

Stories persist that a huge 'aweoweo run is a sign that an ali'i will soon die. The legend won believers after King Kalakaua's death in 1891; the monarch's death was preceded by reports of red fish swarms in Pearl Harbor.

Others say it is a sign of coming storms, and adherents will note that Hurricane Jimena is expected to pass south of the Big Island this weekend.

Out on the pier, all that mattered was that there are still swarms of 'aweoweo to catch.

Tam said there is no telling when the run of 2003 will end.

"I have no idea; they could leave as fast as they came," said Tam. "It could be a few more weeks or maybe longer."

With no regulations limiting the number of 'aweoweo that can be caught, anglers are casting their fishing rods and hauling in aweoweo by the hundreds.

"There's plenty to go around as long as they use it and don't abuse it," Tam said.

Reach Kalani Wilhelm at 525-8090 or kwilhelm@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: Nalei Akau, 8, fished for 'aweoweo with her brothers and father at He'eia Kea Pier. Her name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.