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The Kona Coast Then & Now

Tracing Kailua-Kona’s evolution from ancient Hawaiian fishing village to royal playground and traditions continuing today.

Kailua-Kona was among many small fishing villages situated along the Kona/Kohala Coast established more than 1500 years ago by Polynesians who voyaged some 2000 miles across open-ocean using only the stars to navigate. Along with their double-hulled voyaging canoes, they brought extensive fishing, aquaculture and farming skills.

Most importantly they brought a pronounced respect for island resources, practicing sustainable growing and harvesting – taking from the land and sea only what was needed ensuring on-going proliferation of food and materials for their communities. Geographical isolation necessitated self-sufficiency in producing all food, clothing and building materials – while taking care to maintain an on-going supply. 

These early day fisherman primarily gathered fish in off-shore waters from canoes and from shore using methods including throw net, hand-line and opihi (small Hawaiian shellfish) picking from shoreline rocks and cliffs. However, they supplemented those supply sources by creating fishponds using ingenious engineering skills to guarantee a constant supply of high protein food year round when ocean and weather conditions prevented their sea-going efforts.

In a culture that honored the earth’s abundance, fishponds symbolized the connection Hawaiians forged between themselves, the ‘āina (land), and the akua (gods), according to information included on HawaiiHistory.org.

Simply defined, fish pond caretakers built grated gates, opening to the sea. Juvenile fish could pass through the narrow gates from the ocean to graze on the ponds’ algae and eventually they would grow too large to swim back out. 

With a growing population, fish from many of the ponds fed both commoners and the chiefs that ruled the villages. Some however, became kapu (forbidden) reserved exclusively for ali’i (royal rulers).

Popular legend has it that King Kamehameha I retained kukini (swift messengers or runners) to deliver still-wiggling, freshly harvested fish from the ponds at Kaloko-Honokohau and elsewhere located several miles north of his royal family’s retreat in Kaiula-Kona!

The ponds at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park are preserved and protected today by resource management rangers. Many meticulously maintained ancient fish ponds of various types and designs are found on resort properties in North Kona and the South Kohala Coast. 

Among them, the 2.2 acre Wai`akauhi Pond at Hualalai Resort is a great example of a loko pu‘uone (an inland pond fed by fresh water spring water and seawater that enters from the ocean through channels during incoming tides) fish pond. David Chai, Hualalai’s Director of Natural Resources, is the lead steward overseeing a team of specialists who care for the resort ponds. Joining the resort a year prior to its opening in 1996, David was tasked with restoring the ponds to pristine condition and continuing to preserve the historic treasures over the past 27 years.

Three additional ancient Hawaiian fish pond designs commonly found on the Kona/Kohala Coast include:

  • Loko kuapā: Shoreline ponds surrounded by a massive stone seawall.
  • Loko kāheka: Brackish anchialine ponds found slightly inland, yet affected by ocean tides due to subterranean passages.
  • Loko wai: Freshwater ponds found in inland areas which are often natural rather than constructed.

In South Kohala, the Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection is home to seven ponds that are part of a historic preserve located on the property. Combined these ponds comprise a water surface area of 15 acres. The hotel continues to use traditional methods of stewardship and husbandry to ensure the health of these ancient ponds. Carefully maintained and stocked, today the ponds contain primarily schools of mullet and milkfish, while jack, eels and shrimp are also often found at home here.      

Fortunately, in Kona today, residents needn’t hire runners to deliver the ultimate in highest quality, just caught local, sustainably harvested fish. Owners Eddie Blum and John Vincenzi at Kona Seafood Market, centrally located in the heart or Kailua-Kona, partner with about 40 licensed, non-commercial fisherman who deliver fresh catch to the market all day long daily. Among them are a few solo kayakers who venture up to 20 miles off-shore in their self-propelled, environmentally sound crafts! Others, of course, include solo captains or those with one or two crew in motorized fishing boats. In less than three years the market has become the third largest purchaser of the finest seasonally available seafood on the island with an average of 1,000 pounds purchased and sold each week.

“We are humbled to have the opportunity to give back to our local community, providing local fresh seafood at a fair price, while supporting our local sustainable fishing economy,” co-owner Eddie Blum says.    

Bio: Kona Seafood Market, located in Kailua-Kona across from its sister business Roasted Toasted Café in The Club Kona, was opened in September 2020 by long-time resident Eddie Blum and his business partner at the time Jared Dufault. It was a gift to local fishermen and Kona residents during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, providing income to the vendors and high quality, sustainably caught fish at fair prices to consumers. That commitment continues today under the guidance of Blum and co-owner John Vincenzi. The market is open daily; 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday and 10am-3pm Sundays. 

“Early Hawaiians were experts at aquaculture. A marvel of advanced  engineering, the fishponds they created centuries ago guaranteed a constant supply of fish year round even when ocean and weather conditions made on-and off-shore ocean fishing impossible.” 

“Kona Seafood Market’s promise: Always fresh. Always local. Always sustainable. Working with local, small scale fisherman, our goal is to offer a broad variety of the highest quality, seasonally available seafood from our Hawaii Island waters.”  

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