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A Case Study of Hanalei Bay, Kaua‘i

Fishing, Seafood, and Community Research in the Main Hawaiian Islands

This report summarizes a pilot study of consumption-oriented fishing and shoreline food gathering activities and associated social context in the Main Hawaiian Islands. The project was sponsored by the State of Hawai'i's Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) as a component of the NOAA Fisheries Local Action Strategy in Hawai'i (FLASH). The research involved development and testing of a methodology for generating detailed assessment of local fishing activities as these occur in Hanalei Bay and in relation to the community of Hanalei on the Island of Kaua'i. The methodological approach and project findings have the potential to enable useful comparative analysis of fishing activities undertaken in other communities around the islands, with implications for prospective future natural resource management decisions across the state.


Relatively few island or coastal residents around the world today are in a position to undertake natural resource harvesting activities on a full-time or exclusive basis. This holds true in the study community of Hanalei and in the Hawaiian Islands in general. It is rather the case that fishing, hunting, and other ocean- and mountain-based food gathering activities are elements of an overall suite of activities that facilitate the economic viability of the local household. These also include: part-time and full-time jobs– often in the tourism-related service and construction industries; smallscale agriculture; various investments and subsidies; customary exchange; and intra- and interfamilial reciprocal sharing of labor, foods, and fiscal resources. Commercial fishing and incomebearing sub-rosa activities are also important in economic terms in certain family and community settings around the islands. By combining many sources of food and income, local residents are able to take part in historically important and culturally meaningful activities that bear tangible benefits to the family unit and, collectively, to the community of involved residents. This simultaneously requires maintenance of local and traditional ecological knowledge and strategies for conservation and wise use of living marine resources, as is presently occurring among residents of Hanalei.

Observation in Hawai'i community settings such as Hanalei makes clear that most fishermen take to the shoreline and open-ocean to capture food for consumption in nuclear and extended family settings. The activities are often observably enjoyable to the participants, and in this sense it may be said that a recreational experience is involved. But fullest enjoyment tends to be observed or reported when a successful harvest is achieved and there is food from the sea (or mountains) to eat, to share, and to instigate or satisfy interest in communal celebration. In some cases, these experiences reportedly involve a spiritual connection with the natural environment, with one’s family, and with creative powers greater than the individual. This study underscores the importance of such activities and experiences, and the ways in which they serve to organize local society. Although sociodemographic and economic changes are altering the nature of contemporary life in the community of Hanalei, long-time residents continually assert the importance of: ensuring the continuation of local traditions, ecological knowledge, and prudent use of resources by residents and non-residents alike; pursuing and consuming seafood in family and community settings; and deriving dietary, social, and household-economic benefits from successful fishing activities. This analysis suggests that the importance of these aspects of contemporary life in the Hawaiian Islands cannot be overstated. Indeed, neglecting such factors in the natural resource management process could potentially serve to constrain customs and traditions that were and remain fundamental to development of Native Hawaiian and local societies across the region.


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Hanalei Fishery Report 3-12
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Hanalei Watershed Hui is a 501(c)(3) non-profit environmental organization that strives to care for the Ahupua’a of Hanalei, Waioli, Waipa, and Waikoko guided by Hawaiian and other principles of sustainability and stewardship, integrity and balance, cooperation and aloha, cultural equity and mutual respect.

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Hanalei Watershed Hui
5299C Kuhio Highway
Hanalei, Kauai

Mailing Address:
Post Office Box 1285
Hanalei, Hawaii 96714

Phone: (808) 826-1985
Fax: (808) 826-1985

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