Ancient Hawaiian fishponds are a good example of aquaculture at its finest. Only a few of the 100 or so that once existed on Oahu still remain. One, owned by Kualoa Ranch, is still operational.
Hawaiians are the only Polynesians known to harness the ocean’s bounty using brackish water ponds near the ocean for stocking and harvesting fish, and controlling their main food source, algae. During ancient times when the ponds were controlled by the ali’i (chiefs), most of the fish was reserved for their consumption. If a chief’s land had ample fishponds, it was known as ‘aina momona, fat or sweet lands.
Hawaiians used two types of ponds – inshore and offshore. Brackish groundwater, flowing seaward through the porous lava rock, filled depressions in the rock, creating a unique habitat found nowhere else in the United States. Open-sea ponds were artificially enclosed with rock walls (kuapu), and had sluice gates, called makaha, that connected the pond to the sea.
He’eia Fishpond, an 88-acre, brackish water pond that was in use as late as the 1950s, is located near He’eia State Park on Oahu’s windward coast. A good view of the pond is available from the park. Another picturesque pond is further north on Kamehameha Highway. Kahalu’u Pond features a 1,200-foot long wall planted with coconut trees and is best viewed from the Pineapple Hut souvenir shop.
The Moli’i Fishpond is the only one still operational and commercially successful. The pond, which is owned by the Kualoa Ranch, is divided into two sections, and three makaha connect it to Kaneohe Bay. Fish cultivated in the pond are sold to local markets.
Further north, on Kamehameha Highway, is the Huilua Fishpond, located on the east side of the massive Kahana Bay. The pond is a National Historic Landmark and is usually only visible at low tide due to poor upkeep.
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