Clinging to Survival

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From left: Walter Pu, Ben Villiarmo and Hank Eharis scout for ʻopihi as two future ʻohana (family) leaders look on. Gathering the island delicacy is risky business.
From left: Walter Pu, Ben Villiarmo and Hank Eharis scout for ʻopihi as two future ʻohana (family) leaders look on. Gathering the island delicacy is risky business.

The State of Hawai‘i has refused to put bag limits on ‘opihi, so harvesting this wild resource is a free-for-all. But the collaborators of East Maui have established “rest areas” for at least three years while they continue to collect data. Residents are watching the shorelines, and they will come out with brochures and reasonable pleas to kokua, to join their efforts to let the populations rebound.

Dr. Bird: “The collaboration has been an amazing experience for me. Local communities are stepping up and taking control of their own resources. This community-based management has stemmed from traditional Hawaiian knowledge — what you harvest today affects what you can harvest tomorrow.”

“It’s all about communication and community,” says Hank Eharis. “I got to regulate myself, too,” he adds ruefully. “I’ll admit to over-taking, before. But then we had ‘opihi on ‘opihi. How much ‘opihi did I eat this year? Maybe . . . three. Now the goal is to sustain our lifestyle. We could pound the place, but we’re not like that. The model comes from the Hawaiian kapu system and going back further. It’s always been the community’s work anyway. From the bottom up.”

Best practices as suggested by Na Mamo o Mu‘olea

‘O    ‘Olelo: Communicate with other families so you don’t pick the same area at the same time.
P     Pick just a few for today. Don’t pick to put in the freezer for tomorrow.
     Inch-and-a-quarter is too small. Pick bigger than 1 1/4 inch, but leave the really big ones.
H    Huli heli (“search everywhere”). Keep moving; pick from different areas.
I     ‘Ihi ko‘ele (“respect ko‘ele”). Don’t take this type of ‘opihi, which lives below the water line.

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