Hawaiian Fishponds

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Fishpond by the shore at Makaiwa Bay by the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel on Hawaii, the big island.

Ancient Hawaiians were geniuses at making it easy to catch a fresh seafood dinner. They built fishponds along the shores and water inlets.

The Hawaiians created rock walls that allowed sea water to ebb and flow into the ponds. They also included a gate into the wall that allowed small fish in and additional circulation of seawater. Once the small fish found their new home in the  fishpond, they would eat and grow to the point that they became too large to swim back through the wall.

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Fishpond gate

See this satellite view of Molii Fishpond on Oahu to get a better idea of how the ponds were shaped and constructed.  You can distinctly see the wall between the sea and the ocean.

Fishponds were a sign of wealth in Hawaiian culture. The fish from the ponds was primarily reserved for the ali’i, who were the chiefs.  If commoners were caught stealing fish from the fishpond, he or she was sentenced to death.

When you go to Hawaii, keep your eyes open to see one of these ancient engineering feats.  Here are some fishponds across the islands to look for:

Oahu
image– Molii Fishpond – This pond (photo on left) is on Kualoa Ranch’s private property, but you can take a guided tour to see it.  A tour fee applies.

– Huilua Fishpond at Ahupuaʻa O Kahana State Park (Click here for map.)

Kauai
Menehune Fishpond (Click here for map.)

Maui
The Koieie Fishpond near Kïhei is being restored.  You can learn about the restoration efforts and how you can participate here.

Big Island
–  There are seven fishponds at the Mauna Lani Resort.
– Kaloko Fishpond  at Kaloko-Honoköhau National Historical Park.  (Click here for map.)
– Heleipalala Fishpond at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.  (See a previous post for more information on visiting Puuhonau o Honaunau.)
– Near the grounds of the Marriott at Waikoloa Beach Resort, you’ll find several great examples of fishponds.

Molokai
Molokai probably has more fishponds than any of the other islands.  According to this site, Molokai has as many as 60 historic fishponds along the southern coast.  You can see these fishponds from Highway 450.

Lanai
– Loko Lopa Fishpond is at Lopa Beach and is accessible by four-wheel drive.

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About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

10 comments

  1. aloha sheila,
    ancient hawaiian fishponds don’t get the tourist attention they deserve.

    stop by at the mauna lani fish ponds on the big island located between the mauna lani bay hotel and the mauna lani beach club (best secret beach with best snorkel to see eagle rays – you have to walk there from bay hotel parking spot though). this is one of the most tranquil and peaceful places on the big island. see the photo on our big island photo page where it say ‘mauna launa fish ponds’…sit down on that bench (you will be all by yourself), relax and meditate!!!!!!!!! aloha, pua

  2. Aloha Pua – I have been fortunate enough to stay at the Mauna Lani Resort. The history and well preserved grounds around the resort are really second to none. So, of course as I wrote this post about fishponds, there was no way I’d forget to mention those lovely series of ponds.

  3. I have walked upon the wall at Heeia Fishpond several times with my husband who was interested in aquaculture at the time, early 1990’s. The fishpond walls were in bad shape due to the proliferation of mangrove trees growing on and through the wall, breaking up the stones. No one was really caring for the pond then.

    Happily, today, it is stocked with Moi (a Hawaiian delicacy fish), and being taken care of by the community. Read the article below for more info.

    http://starbulletin.com/2006/09/11/news/story02.html

  4. HawaiiVacationGifts – That’s great to see that the ponds are being restored. Thank you for adding that article.

    Was Moi once a fish reserved only for royalty? It seem like we were told that once at restaurant in Hawaii.

  5. Hi Sheila,
    You were correctly informed, Moi was once reserved for the Ali’i or Hawaiian ruling class. Your fishpond post and question about Moi inspired me to do a post on this wonderful tasting fish. You can see it at
    http://doublebrush.typepad.com/hawaiivacationgifts/2007/09/you-dont-have-t.html

  6. why would you want to show off things about hawaii. as a hawaiian i don’t want tourist to go and mess up something that is meant for the kanaka. because of that reason so much of the secrets of the kanaka are no longer secrets.

  7. i agree with kila…. hi im keaokea (: i am a haumana from Ke Kula Kaiapuni ‘o ‘Anuenue and WE DONT want tourist to go and MESS up something that is meant for the hawaiianz/kanakas. these fishponds are ANCIENT and KAPU, these were made for us hawaiians not these tourist. like what kila said, whyy would you want to SHOW OFF things about hawai’i? because of that reason so much of the secrets of the kanaka are no longer secrets!

  8. To kila & keao –

    There are no secrets given away here…and no suggestion to do anything other than simply admire these ingenious inventions.

    Aloha,
    Sheila

  9. As a longtime visitor I agree that non-kanaka should leave a very small footprint. But I admire greatly the ancient fishponds near Hamoa at Hana (Maui).
    mahalo, Sara

  10. I have been to the Loko Lopa Fishpond pond on Lanai. It is beautiful, but looks as though it also needs some restoration.

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