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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Old ways giving moi new life in fishpond

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

Hi'ilei Kawelo, a Paepae O He'eia staff member, measures a fish. Paepae O He'eia, a nonprofit group devoted to ecocultural education activities at He'eia Fishpond, is pursuing a moi fish cultivation project using traditional Hawaiian methods and modern agriculture techniques.

Paepae O He'eia

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To participate in community workdays on the second and fourth Saturdays, or to set up an educational visit, call Paepae O He'eia at 236-6178.

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KANE'OHE Traditional Hawaiian and cutting-edge aquaculture specialists are working together to step up and sustain production at He'eia Fishpond.

With grant money from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the National Marine Fisheries Service, Oceanic Institute and Paepae O He'eia, which conducts ecocultural education activities at He'eia Fishpond, are angling to revitalize moi fish cultivation using an old Hawaiian method.

"I see it as a marriage between ancient ways and modern aquaculture," said Oceanic Institute's Charles Laidley.

Oceanic Institute will provide training and 1,000 moi fingerlings over a yearlong period. The fish will be tagged and monitored by Paepae O He'eia staff and thousands of students visiting the pond during the study period.

Laidley said the hands-on study likely will appeal to students. "The key thing is to get them excited about something and once they get rolling, life gets a whole lot more interesting and they're willing to see why you should go to school and what they're getting from it," he said.

Some 2,500 students visit the site annually from public, private and charter schools. The organization also provides educational tours for businesses, kupuna groups and hula halau.

A century ago, Hawaiians would create fishponds to capture and raise fish, developing an environment where animals flourished. Under the traditional methods, fishpond gates would be opened to allow young fish into the pond where they would be captured and raised.

The problem today is there is no large supply of young fish due to the depletion of fish supply over the decades, Laidley said.

Mahinapoepoe Paishon, Paepae O He'eia's executive director, said in the early 1900s, 297 fishponds were counted throughout the Islands. About 25 remain.

Established in 2001, Paepae O He'eia hopes the study will lead to a viable business opportunity that would help sustain the group and its programs at the fishpond, she said.

"Oceanic Institute will directly assist our organization in the recovery of traditional knowledge and acquisition of contemporary knowledge and skills related to raising fish," Paishon said, pointing out that her organization is still learning about the ancient process.

Laidley, who said he'll help develop a business plan for the fishpond, said the Oceanic Institute a world leader in conducting applied research in aquaculture production and marine resource conservation also intends to use the results of the He'eia Fishpond study to assist other fishpond efforts.

The He'eia Fishpond study was made possible by a $130,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service and a $50,000 grant from OHA. Oceanic Institute officials sought the OHA grant to provide training for Paepae O He'eia's staff.

Noting that the fishpond has attracted poachers over the years, Paishon said she hopes there will be no such interference with the He'eia Fishpond Revitalization Project. Unauthorized taking could diminish the research, educational and cultural value of the study, she said. Eventually, the moi raised in this study will be released.

In addition to educational efforts, Paepae O He'eia is clearing and restoring the fishpond, which belongs to Kamehameha Schools.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.