Big Island program gives hope to dwindling Hawaii fish populations


Hawaii’s dwindling reef fish population problem may have an answer.

Generations of community leaders and Kupuna of Kaupulehu on the west side of Hawaii Island converged to devise a plan to replenish their coral reef fish, creating the Kaupulehu Marine Reserve.

The action, called “Try Wait”, was enacted in 2016. It places a 10 year moratorium on fishing for a stretch of land 3.6 miles from Kikaua Point to Kalaemano, also venturing out to sea 120 ft. in depth.

Three years later, scientists from The Nature Conservancy have been astonished with the results.

“We just got back from doing two weeks of surveys.” TNC Director of Marince Science Dr. Eric Conklin said.

“We jumped into the water at over 100 different sites, and pretty much every time we got out of the water we just all looked each other and said wow there’s a lot more fish out there.”

Kaupulehu (Courtesy: The Nature Conservancy)

Hawaiian traditional fishing practices include a kapu system with closed seasons and areas. The Department of Land and Natural resources manages enforcement, while The Nature Conservancy has conducted extensive research.

The conservation effort has yielded 30-60% increases in hogfish, uhu, and kole.

“The goal has been the long term sustainable harvest from this area for the people that live there.” Dr. Conklin added.

“So the goal has always been to restore and replenish those resources to enable long-term sustainable harvest for generations to come. That’s why they call it ‘Try Wait’. It’s just try wait for a few more years to allow the resources to rest and recover.”

The only other spot in Hawaii that has administered a similar tactic is at Haena on Kauai. With overfishing being the dominant cause of reef fish declining numbers state-wide, Dr. Conklin believes that similar tactics could be implemented throughout Hawaii.

“Kaupulehu is one of the only two communities that has navigated through that process so far. There’s a number of other communities that are at various steps along the way and are very motivated to get rules in place for their place as well.”

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