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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Time for us to help 'opihi rest

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Not too long ago, a young man might show up for a first date bearing a gift meant to impress not flowers, not candy, but a wet bag of 'opihi. This gesture demonstrated his skills as a provider, his appreciation of such a fine delicacy and his generosity by giving away such a treasure. Major points from the parents.

Today, if a guy shows up at the door with a clutch of 'opihi, it means he either camped out overnight at the fish market, kayaked to Nihoa or is trying to pass off some ugly scallops.

Gone are the days when you could pick 'opihi off the rocks at a family beach. Gone are the days when you could get an extra scoop from the cute server on your lu'au plate. Gone are the family pa'ina when you catch yourself saying, "Nah, I ate too much 'opihi already. Full. You folks whack the rest."

Now, when you buy a lu'au plate, if you ask, "get 'opihi?," you'll get a hearty laugh. Yeah, right. No more even poi. Where you think you living, 1964?

At Alan Wong's, you can order 'opihi as an appetizer when it's "in season." The one lonely 'opihi comes in a glass the size of a tube of Chapstick and shares the space with a branch of chervil. You're supposed to "shoot" it like an oyster, but if it's the only 'opihi you've seen in a long time, you'll want to chew it slowly and taste every salty bitty bit.

This may be the high point of the legislative session, the one law that can make a difference in these islands by protecting the vulnerable and saving for the future.

The little limpets don't run, swim, sting or cry out. If you tip them off that you're out to snag them, they can cement to the rock pretty tight; but even that grip can be broken by a swift butter knife wielded by a sure hand.

Hee is speaking out for the voiceless 'opihi. An accomplished horseman, Hee apparently has the same aloha for the small creatures of the sea as he does for the big ones on land.

Perhaps other measures will follow: perhaps the furthering of 'opihi farming. Then, a young man could show up for a first date with that wet bag of 'opihi and say, "I grew these myself."

A ban on sales of 'opihi is a good place to start on a conservation problem that has gone too far for too long.

Or in the words of Hee, "the 'opihi needs to rest."

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.