Saving Hawaii's Reef Fish

Reef fishing has been a part of life in Hawaii ever since the first people settled there. My daughter and her family on Maui are very much connected to the sea and reef fishing. Here is a picture of my granddaughter Chloe (age 2 1/2) holding up two tako (octopus) which her dad's cousin speared.

Insuring that Chloe and generations to come can continue to enjoy the reefs requires protecting them. That is not easy.

Back in the 1950's, a few people in key government positions made some very poor choices regarding Hawaiian ecosystems. One of these choices was to introduce a non-native species of fish to Hawaii's reefs. The "roi", known elsewhere as Striped Grouper or Blue Spotted Grouper, was thought to offer an economic benefit in the form of a good eating fish for local markets.

As with many other cases where humans tamper with the natural balance of an ecosystem, this decision went horribly wrong. Now, the roi are often infected with ciguatoxin, a toxin from micro-alga that builds up in the tissues of some fish. There is no simple test by which fishermen or consumers can tell if a roi is safe to eat, so there is not much of a market for them.

Another problem is that roi, which can grow to a long as 3 feet, feed on other reef fish and are believed responsible for the large drop in reef fish populations over the last two decades. A University of Hawai'i study estimated that in a three-square-mile area off the Kona Coast, roi eat 99 tons of reef fish annually — the equivalent of 8.2 million fish.

So there is little demand for roi which means they are left alone. That, in turn, means that they increase their numbers and decimate other fish species through predation or competition for food.

The spearfishing community decided to take action at the local level to try to bring the situation under control. Rather than waiting for the government to "do something", they are holding events they call "Roi Round-ups" or "Kill Roi Day", with the support of organizations like Mālama Hawai‘i and the Maui Ocean Center and others, during which they spear as many roi as they can. The fish that are caught are not for eating. Instead, most are given to scientists who are studying ciguatoxins and trying to create a test to make available to fishermen and consumers. The rest are given to an organic farming group to be made into fertilizer.

The Kill Roi program started on Maui and the idea is spreading. Here's a video about one such event on the island of Oahu. Other related videos follow if you are interested.

Local problems often need local solutions (safety, energy, food production, environmental problems, etc.) with the participation of citizens working together. That's what being a community is all about.

A hui hou


HappySurfer said...

Highly commendable that the locals are taking the initiative for their own community welfare. And Chloe is so cute. She has nice curly hair too.

Don Snabulus said...

That might be a good activity for an Explorer post to help out with. It would make a good service project for those with good scuba skills.

bonnie said...

The phrase "malama pono" jumped into my head when I read that. Does that make sense?

I think the hiking group my dad used to belong to (before they moved to NC, bleah)would do work days where they'd go along the trails pulling out invasive plants.

I was surprised to find out that the strawberry guava that all the hikers like to eat is on the bad-guy list. I don't think anybody ever mentioned that when I was a kid.

bonnie said...

Oh, silly me. That phrase obviously popped into my head because the name of one of the sponsoring groups is "Malama Hawai'i" - I must have read that without really reading it.

ladybug said...

As is so often the case, the folks that have to live with the problem, end up solving (or at least mitigating) the problem.