Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Hawaii
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Hawaii Project

Assessing the functional equivalency of Hawaiian fishponds r...

August 2017 - May 2019


Participating Agencies

  • U.S. Geological Survey, Cooperative Research Units Program

Hawaiian fishponds were important cultural and economic resources for native Hawaiians as they were an important component of a sophisticated, integrated food production system. Prior to European contact in 1778, an estimated 360-450 fishponds encompassing over 2,700 ha were in active production across the islands, contributing an estimated minimum annual yield in excess of 900,000 kg. However, changing demographics and systems of land ownership resulted in a decline in the use and upkeep of Hawaiian fishponds throughout the 19th Century. The cultural value of Hawaiian fishponds has not diminished and there has been a concerted effort from numerous community groups to restore fishponds in Hawaii since the early 1990s. Despite these efforts, only 21 ponds are currently in production with others in various stages of planning or restoration. However even in their various stages of disrepair, Hawaiian fishponds potentially may be an important component of the productivity of nearshore fisheries. The Hawaiian Islands have a relatively small amount of estuarine habitat, i.e., ≤ 200 km2 depending on the definition of estuary used, relative to the amount of shoreline. Even though Hawaiian estuaries tend to be relatively small in size (1-2 km2) and unevenly distributed amongst the islands, they are productive for their size and represent critical nursery habitats for a number of species important to subsistence and recreational fisheries. Understanding the interaction between actively managed fishponds; inactive, abandoned, or otherwise unmanaged fishponds, and natural estuaries is important to better manage nearshore fisheries resources and monitor the distribution of coastal and marine invasive species, such as red mangrove Rhizophora mangle or the introduced mullet, Kanda Osteomugil engeli. The goal of the proposed study is to evaluate the role of fishponds on the productivity of nearshore fisheries in Hawaii to inform permitting decisions and best management practices.