He'eia Fishpond, a part of ancient Hawaii

He'eia Fishpond is one of the few fishponds that remain as an active fishpond in O'ahu. It has been said that this ancient Hawaiian fishpond in the shoreline of Kane'ohe Bay was built for their ali'i over 600 years ago. In Hawaiian history, fishponds were the major source of protein and played an important role in the spiritual and cultural lives of the Hawaiian people. Those that helped create these fishponds benefited from the crops of fish and seaweed that were produced. The ancient Hawaiians only took what they needed and were able to sustain from the land.

The ancient fishponds of Hawai'i were one of the most significant and successful aqua-cultural achievements in history. Fishponds were originally created by the residents of their ahupua'a as stocking ponds to raise fish and provide easy access to fish during the winter months when deep sea fishing was dangerous or when it was “kapu” (forbidden) to fish, for example, when they were spawning. So although the law forbade the Hawaiians to fish in the sea at such times they were able to fish in the fishponds because fishponds were considered an extended part of the land according to Hawaiian history.

He'eia Fishpond is a seashore pond that was made by building a wall of stone and coral. This wall ranges in width from 10-14 feet and stretches 1.3 miles in length. What makes it truly unique is that the wall completely encircles the entire 88-acre pond. Its depth is 2-5 feet, based on the tide. The water is brackish, a combination of the water from He'eia Stream (fresh water) and Kaneohe Bay (salt water). The fish that are raised there include moi, 'awa and crabs. Limu (seaweed) also grows plentifully.

Between 1987 and 1999, Mary Brooks, with a strong background in western aqua-cultural techniques, was able to blend both Western and Hawaiian techniques enabling the fish pond to yield 70,000 pounds of moi ( a special fish raised for the Hawaiian Royalty) annually and 1,000 pounds of ogo (seaweed) weekly.

So how does this fishpond work? First of all, there is the kuapa (wall). The purpose of the kuapa was to divide the sea or stream from the water inside the fishpond. Then there is the makaha which is the grate or grill placed in the opening of the rock wall. This was constructed in ancient times with sticks and beams but may now be constructed by wire mesh. This makaha allows both water and pua (baby fish) to enter the fishpond while keeping the undesirable fish out. There are six makaha at He'eia Fishpond that control the water and bring oxygen to the fish.

With the makaha in place, a solid gate is used to control the water level in the fishpond without releasing any fish. The pond can be drained and cleaned during low tide. The opening of this gate also traps the fish for harvesting. When you think about the logic behind the Hawaiian fishpond, it’s quite simple and yet so profound. The Native Hawaiians were pioneers of the conservation and sustenance of our ecosystem.

He'eia Fishpond is owned by Kamehameha Schools and is maintained by a private non-profit organization known as Paepae o He'eia. Their mission is to implement values and concepts from the model of a traditional fishpond to provide physical, intellectual and spiritual sustenance for the community. The organization uses the strengths of He'eia Fishpond to combine ancestral knowledge with western ways.

This organization of young Hawaiians has much to do to maintain the fishpond. They are busy catching pua (baby fish) outside of the fishpond to increase fish productivity. They must remove predator fish such as barracuda and papio. They are constantly repairing the walls. Removal of mangrove from the wall and pond is also important. It grows into the roots and loosens the rock and coral. Its root system is also bad for the fishpond environment because the land that is created by the growth of the mangrove prevents the wind from circulating, preventing the oxygen from being created. And we all know that the fish need oxygen to live. Optimizing the growth of algae is also part of the organization’s program, making sure that the algae get enough sunlight by lowering the level of the water. And then there is the harvesting. You can purchase moi and limu during the seasons that they are abundant.

There is much to learn at the He'eia Fishpond in Kaneohe. Please visit to understand its relevance to Hawaiian living, conservation and Hawai'i’s delicate ecosystem. Paepae O He'eia is always looking for volunteers and support throughout the year. Aloha.

Honolulu Festival

Paepae O He'eia

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