Over 125 guests — including representatives from 13 Pacific Northwest tribal nations; students and leaders from Northwest Indian College; and many more Indigenous stewards from across the globe — gathered at the Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi farm and He’eia fishpond on Oahu to learn about traditional Hawaiian aquaculture practices and technologies in February. The Hui Malama Loko l’a (meaning, “network that cares for fishponds”) gathering was a catalyzing event in a three-year NOAA grant led by Washington Sea Grant in coordination with Hawaii Sea Grant, Alaska Sea Grant and respective community partners. The grant aims to launch a cross-Pacific regional collaborative effort integrating research, outreach and education advancing sustainable Indigenous Aquaculture practices that enhance seafood production and strengthen community access to customary foods in the Pacific region. Just four days did that and more!
The fishpond gathering included cultural activities such as chants and stories, environmental observations and local knowledge, hands-on learning workshops, fishpond restoration, and opportunities to make new connections. Collectively, we moved and stacked rocks in the mud and water to build a 100-foot stretch of wall in a newly restored part of the He’eia fishpond, and removed invasive plants to nurture a productive habitat and ecosystem for growing local and sustainable foods. This was followed by a visit to the freshwater source at a sacred place up the mountain, and an afternoon tour of the outer walls, sluice gates and guard huts of Paepae o’ He’eia fishpond. The final day was spent visiting and participating in restoration work such as surveying fish, stacking rocks and clearing sediment at several other fishponds around the island.
As a result of the fishpond gathering, cross-Pacific partnerships grew in exponential ways, with new ideas and synergies shared between students, elders, fisheries managers, biologists, and cultural practitioners from Alaska, Hawaii, California, Washington, Canada, New Zealand and beyond. Following this experience, I am certain there will be future collaborations and more great work ahead as we continue efforts to support communities seeking to revitalize their traditional aquaculture practices and local food systems.
A special thank you to WSG social scientist Melissa Poe, the project lead on the three-year grant, for inviting and coordinating all our many partners who attended this event. I also acknowledge the coordinating organization KUA and the fishpond hosts at Paepae o He’eia, the camp hosts at Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi, and the hosts and staff of all the other Loko I’a (or fishponds) for organizing an inspiring experience and sharing their cultural teachings and ongoing work restoring traditional cultural foods systems in Hawaii. They were an inspiration to us all.
Russell Callender, WSG Director