ory by Becky Speere | Photography by Ben Ferrari
Web exclusive: Watch Chef Peri demonstrate techniques for cooking ta’ape.
Captain Monroe Bryce yells over his shoulder, “Get ready to drop!” Standing alert at the stern of the Marjorie Ann, Maui Fun Charters’ thirty-foot fishing boat, we eight guests line the shiny chrome railings with our fishing poles, our squid-baited hooks bobbing on the surface of the water. “Let it go!” We hold our breaths as the weighted hooks plummet into the blue abyss. “Okay, reel up four times,” Monroe orders, and we follow his command. Just as the bait passes over the reef, boom! Fish on! And on! And on! It’s a good day. . . .
Chef Hiram Peri and I arrive at Mā‘alaea Harbor at seven, just as the sun is rising over Maui’s 10,023-foot-high Mt. Haleakalā. The morning chill envelops us as we leave the car’s cozy warmth and head to the boat, but we sigh with relief at the sight of calm seas. When I spoke to Monroe last evening, he had cautioned that the day could be windy, and that recent catches had been sparse. Today, as we approach the berth, co-captain Mike Clevhammer’s words bring a smile to our faces. “The winds are directly out of the east,” he says, “so Haleakalā’s mass is protecting us from the elements.”
We’ll be fishing for ta’ape, bluestripe snapper (Lutjanus kasmira). Originally from the Marquesas, this pelagic species was introduced into O‘ahu’s waters in 1956 as a potential game fish. Today the snapper is found throughout Hawai‘i’s waters, and has spread as far as the Midway Islands, a mind-boggling distance of 1,600 miles. Because it spawns year-round, ta’ape can overwhelm reef habitats for Hawai‘i’s indigenous and endemic fish, and increase competition for food. Our goal today is to catch a few to reduce their numbers, while securing our entrée for a dinner that Hiram, owner of Honu Cuisine, will lovingly prepare. (The services of a private chef aren’t part of Maui Fun Charters’ regular cruises, but Hiram is game to come along, and he’s already planned a menu with ta’ape as the main course.)
Stepping onboard, I wonder how Monroe secured a berth here at Mā‘alaea Harbor — let alone a (nearly impossible to obtain) license to carry passengers. When I ask how he managed that feat, the Ha‘ikū native shares his family’s story: “My father obtained a slip at the harbor in 1986, where he kept the family’s fishing boat. In 2005, he obtained a license to do commercial fishing,” becoming one of twenty-nine licensed commercial fishing businesses operating out of Mā‘alaea. “That’s when my brother, Kelly, and I decided to make a living from bottom-fishing charters. We go out once a day. It’s fun, and I still have a family life.”
Kelly and Monroe split the workweek, taking customers out on alternate mornings. “Kelly also does the maintenance and repairs on the boats [Marjorie Ann has a sister vessel, Pamela], and that helps us keep a handle on finances. Boats are expensive to maintain.” But today, Monroe says, he’ll be the one cleaning up after the cruise. “My wife, Chelsea, is almost ready to deliver — our third child — and I need to get home and help her with our other two.” Instead, Kelly and his wife will join Hiram and me for dinner at my house.