HONOLULU (KHON2) — Opihi are considered a Hawaiian delicacy that have gotten harder to find over the years. A program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is hoping to change all that.
Opihi are limpets that live on rocks in Hawaii’s near-shore waters. They’re a traditional Hawaiian delicacy, usually eaten raw with some shoyu and chili pepper water. But due to over-harvesting, their numbers have dramatically declined.
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Though there are some healthy populations on neighbor islands, it’s extremely rare to see them in the wild on Oahu and equally as difficult to find somewhere that consistently sells them.
Andrea Young, the general manager of Young’s Fish Market in Kalihi, sells it whenever their Big Island supplier can send it over.
“We try to keep it on hand but recently it’s been a lot harder to get. So, right now, we have some available but we didn’t for about a year,” Young explained.
Since there is demand for it, she keeps it on the menu.
But she said opihi is not just the most expensive seafood they carry, it’s one of the most expensive foods they carry because it’s so hard to find. A quarter pound will cost you $20–that’s $80 a pound.
“If people want it, they pay for it,” Young said. “When we have it, it will usually sell pretty quickly.”
A study being done at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at UH Manoa is hoping to help reestablish the dwindling opihi population.
“Our main goal is to be able to spawn opihi, grow them in a lab until they’re early juveniles and then hopefully out-plant them in the wild,” said Angel Valdez, who is the lead for the opihi spawning program.
In order to do that, Valdez said they collect full grown wild opihi, reacclimate them to the new environment and get them to spawn by first putting them in a cup and injecting them with hormones.
“Spawning is the release of eggs and sperm and we’ll be able to collect those and mix them together and in a couple of hours get little babies,” said Valdez.
According to Valdez, their big break came a couple of years ago when they were able to raise an opihi for 30 days, which is about the size of the tip of a pencil.
Unfortunately, Valdez said they haven’t been able to grow them past that point, they keep dying.
“Nobody really knows anything beyond what I call ‘the teenager stage,'” Valdez said. “(The opihi) are a little picky, they’re a little finicky, so we don’t know what they like to eat what they need from that point on.”
Valdez said they still have a lot of work to do until they can transplant the baby opihi into the wild but they believe what they are doing is important.
Mitchell Marabella, who is also part of the project said, “They are an endemic species. They may not have the cute factor of a panda but they are culturally important within Hawaii.”
And Marabella said that if they disappear, it would disrupt Hawaii’s fragile intertidal ecosystem.
To learn more about opihi harvesting rules, click here.
“We’re not trying to stop picking we’re not trying to limit anything we want to keep them around so people can hold on to the traditions that they have and also just be able to provide tasty snacks everyone loves to eat opihi,” Valdez said.