By Jennie Lyons, NOAA Fisheries Public Affairs
Feature article in Volume #1 of Nourish and Flourish - Sneak Preview
A millennium ago, nearly 500 ancient fishponds provided food security for Native Hawaiians living on an island in the middle of the Pacific. Today, this beautiful fish pond full of hatchery-born mullets is one example of how folks are tapping into cultural wisdom in hopes of improving our nation’s healthy food supply for the future.
“Locally grown seafood in waters around the nation is critical for environmental responsibility, food security, and a stronger economy,” says Michael Rubino, NOAA’s Senior Advisor for Seafood Strategy. “With the population growing fast, expanding our nation’s seafood production is really a gift for our children and grandchildren. It’s the responsible thing to do.”
The history of growing fish in nearby waters dates back hundreds of years, if not thousands. In Hawaii, 488 fishponds once dotted the islands to provide a reliable staple of a healthy diet. We can step into a piece of the past at the 800-year-old Paepae o He’eia fish pond, one of only 50 such ponds still in use today. The pond currently sells nutritious whole fish directly to the community. The nearby Kualoa Farm grows oysters in constructed ponds between 800 and 1,000 years old. Fresh oysters are one of the delicacies locals and tourists alike enjoy.
These ponds are part of a push to raise more fish and shellfish around the islands for cultural reasons as well as to feed a hungry wave of tourists who visit each year. The locally grown food promotes health and environmental responsibility. As Native Hawaiians know, it’s also a source of food security in an area nearly 4,000 miles from the United States mainland. But experts say expanding current pond production is just a first step.
The Oceanic Institute of Hawaii Pacific University, just a short drive away, is researching cutting-edge technology to support sustainable aquaculture and notes a wealth of untapped potential both off Hawaii’s coast and around the nation.
“For domestic aquaculture to expand, science-based approaches need to be developed and implemented to compete with cheap, imported seafood,” said Dr. Shaun Moss, the Oceanic Institute’s Executive Director. “By using advanced technologies, the United States aquaculture industry should be able to replace a significant portion of foreign imports to provide American consumers with high-quality aquatic protein in a sustainable manner.”
Seafood is vital to the Hawaiian economy and culture. Fish, shellfish, and seaweeds are an important part of local diets, and seafood demand is further increased by millions of visitors who crave high quality, freshlocal seafood.
Just off the rocky Kona coast, Blue Ocean Mariculture, the nation’s only offshore fish farm, is helping provide a native kanpachi species to meet this growing demand for seafood. “Among local species, Hawaiian kanpachi was a clear choice for its high quality, versatility, and natural ability to hit sustainability benchmarks,” said Blue Ocean Mariculture farmer Tyler Korte.
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