Native Hawaiian access and gathering rights are protected by state laws and by the State of Hawai‘i constitution. These laws also require all state and county agencies to affirmatively protect and enforce these rights. The Constitution of the State of Hawai‘i, Article XII, Section 7, “Traditional and Customary Rights,” protects certain rights to shoreline access. Hawai‘i Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapters 1-1 and 7-1 protect public access that has been fixed by Hawaiian judicial precedent or established by Hawaiian usage, including Native Hawaiian gathering rights. HRS Section 46-6.5 states that the counties, in the subdivision process, must ensure public access to land below the high-watermark on any coastal shoreline. When this statute is not applicable, HRS Section 115-2 requires counties to acquire public rights-of way.Food is still traditionally gathered on the shoreline and in the water. The shoreline contains pa‘akai (salt) and limu (seaweed). In addition, the shoreline and ocean are used for religious and spiritual ceremonies.
Hawaiians built rock-walled enclosures in near shore waters to raise fish, an integral part of the ahupuaʻa. Fish entered through a wooden gate or sluice in the stone wall on the seaward side and as they grew, they became too large to return to the open ocean. In ancient Hawai‘i, it was estimated that there were 488 fishponds statewide, and more than 75 fishponds were in production on Molokaʻi alone. Yet the fishponds went out of use, became contaminated, and most disappeared.
Benchmark - Where we are now
  • Fishponds –A revival of fishponds has occurred in recent years, and thirteen have been restored to some level. Six are in use, including three on Molokaʻi, one on Maui (Aoʻao Na Loko Iʻa o Maui at Koʻieʻie Fishpond), one on Hawaiʻi Island, and one on Oʻahu (Heʻeia). Project Loko Iʻa at the Keawanui fishpond on Molokaʻi provides learning and demonstration lessons. Restoration is very labor intensive and difficult work.
  • In 2012, the State Legislature passed Senate Resolution No. 86, urging the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Department of Health (DOH), and Office of Planning (OP) to streamline the permitting process for the restoration of Hawaiian fishponds.
  • OP, through its Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program, developed a General Concurrence for fishpond restoration activities under Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) federal consistency regulations. The federal approval process through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been approved.
  • The Koʻolauloa Watershed Management Plan estimates a restoration cost of $100,000 and annual management costs of $30,000-40,000 for each fishpond within the Koʻolauloa district of O‘ahu.
  • NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) is coordinating an effort to streamline permitting of fishpond restoration through a State Programmatic General Permit working with DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands (OCCL), United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the National Marine Sanctuary.
  • On the island of Lāna‘i, a group of community members has begun the Lāna‘i Limu Restoration Project with support of NOAA.
Target - Where we would like to be
  • Involved agencies work to support restoration of fishponds with an eye towards increasing fish stocks and opportunities for gathering.
  • Community groups and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) collaborate to restore fishponds by streamlining the permitting process, providing technical assistance, and providing guidance on best practices.
  • The streamlined permitting process for fish pond restoration is complete.
  • Shoreline and coastal access for Native Hawaiian gathering is protected.

Hawaiian fishponds, Loko i‘a, are traditional aquaculture systems utilized in Hawai‘i. According to the Hui Mālama Loko Iʻa, "488 fishpond sites were identified in the last statewide survey (1990). Among these 488 loko i‘a sites, many are in degraded conditions, sometimes completely beyond repair or unrecognizable as fishponds. However, for the sites that are partially intact, there are communities and stewardship groups who actively restore or have expressed interest in reviving the integrity and productivity of these places".

Image: Hawaiʻi Watershed Partnerships, Molokai Fishpond

Increase in number of fishpond restoration projects given technical assistance and support for permitting processes

Agency: Office of Planning, Coastal Zone Management Program

Image: Heʻeia fishpond sluice gate, M.Lander

Video: 'Guiding Restoration of Hawaiian Fishponds', DLNR

Decrease in average number of months to obtain all permits necessary for fishpond restoration

The Hawaiʻi CZM Program completed the process to establish a general concurrence for minor permit activities for the restoration, repair, maintenance and reconstruction of Hawaiian fishponds throughout the State of Hawaiʻi. The CZM Program developed and issued the general concurrence in response to Senate Resolution No. 86, adopted by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature on April 10, 2012, which urged the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Health, and Office of Planning to streamline the permitting process for the restoration of Hawaiian fishponds.

The resolution also requested the Office of Planning to consider, “a coastal zone management program consistency statement for Hawaiian fishponds.” On April 23, 2013, the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) (Now the Office of Coastal Management (OCM)), issued its concurrence with the general concurrence as a routine program change, pursuant to 15 CFR §930.53 (b) and (c). The general concurrence became effective and available for use by potential applicants on May 3, 2013, with the publication of a public notice of OCRM/OCM’s concurrence.

The streamlining of the permitting process, called “Ho‘ala Loko I‘a”, reduced the time needed to obtain a permit for restoration from 10 years to a single month. Other changes included the creation of a programmatic master permit and the use of a simplified conservation district use permit (CDUP) during the application process. A programmatic environmental assessment (EA) was completed to comply with the Hawai’i Environmental Quality Act (HEPA). The CDUP and programmatic EA were designed to cover all existing traditional fishponds in the State.

Another helpful step was the signing of Bill 230 by Governor Ige in July 2015, which waived the need to obtain a Department of Health 401 Water Quality Certification for fishpond restoration. This waiver is only available to projects that obtain permits through the DLNR-OCCL program. While the program vastly reduces government red tape, projects are still required to have water quality monitoring, mitigation and best management practices in place to keep Hawaiʻi’s waters clean and reefs healthy. The streamlining process took approximately 2 years.

The streamlined Loko Iʻa application is available on the DLNR Website. The Loko Iʻa Manual on Hawaiian Fishpond Restoration and Management was created to guide restoration efforts. For more information on traditional Hawaiian fishponds view DLNR's short informational video, "Guiding Restoration of Hawaiian Fishponds".

Agencies: Department of Land and Natural Resources, Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands and Department of Health

Images: (Above) Heʻeia 'Kapu' Sign, M.Lander, (Below Right) Kōʻieʻie, MauiDLNR-OCCL, (Below Left) Locations of Fishponds, Kua Hawaiʻi

Title Image: Paepae O Heeia