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Tide and Current: Fishponds of Hawai’I (A Kolowalu Book)

This well-crafted story collection clearly reflects the author’s entrepreneurial experiences rebuilding and then operating a productive Hawaiian Island fishpond on Oahu’s North Shore.

It presents a rare combination of lyric prose and art that capture the ecological truths Carol Wyban, her family – with their Hawaiian friends and neighbors – discovered how to adapt to the mid-Pacific Ocean’s ebb and flow.

TIDE and CURRENT: Fishponds of Hawaii shares hard-won insights with practical lessons “re-learned” about both natural forces and political land use policies. Its acknowledgements begin with this simple Hawaiian saying: “Aia ke ola ka hana” meaning . . . Life is in labor.

This book reflects facts from prior Aquaculture research done by J.A. Wyban and J.N. Sweeney that resulted in publishing a 19991 report on Intensive Shrimp Production Technology: The Oceanic Institute Shrimp Manual. The Oceanic Institute, Hawaii, USA, 158 pp.

As a state-owned pond on Moloka’i, `Ualapu`e was selected by the state to be a model Aquaculture project. Carol Wyban’s book describes more about this effort on p.154

While profit and economic development utilizing modern Aquaculture techniques are major long-term goals, equally important goals are the revitalization of traditional Hawaiian fishpond practices and the preservation of the history, culture, and values associated with `Ualapu`e.

Visit the University of Hawaii WebSite for more oral history on fishpond restoration projects.

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2 Comments

  1. Harry Eagar says:

    Hopeless (almost) romanticism In the four years that Carol Wyban and her husband Jim were kia`i loko (pondkeepers) at Haleiwa, “The challenge for us at Lokoea was to balance the cultural heritage of the pond with the modern needs of a modern community.”How close they came is related in “Tide and Current,” a curious book that swings between the spiritual and romantic outlook of Carol Wyban, a poet (and illustrator of the book) and the hardheaded, bottom line approach of Jim Wyban, holder of a doctorate in marine biology. They must be an interesting couple.One of the most significant revelations of this book, though Wyban does not particularly emphasize it, is the considerable knowledge of fishpond management that Hawaiians living at Haleiwa have preserved, despite the destruction and neglect the ponds have suffered. This could be important if fishponds are to be revived, as they should be.But not in order to make money. Wyban says their experience at Lokoea “proved that fishponds can produce at an economically feasible level when they are properly managed.” But, in fact, they left Lokoea because it wasn’t self-supporting.Wyban blames modern factors that could be corrected. For example, they couldn’t obtain a long lease (from Kamehameha Schools) and so could not justify the capital expense of repairs. And a jet ski operation near the stream mouth chased away the spawning fish.On the plus side, they developed marketing strategies, including selling live fish to Chinese restaurants, and they increased the output by using more intensive, commercial production methods.The old Hawaiians, without supplemental fish food, practiced what Wyban calls “extensive” fish culture, with a yield per acre of a few hundred pounds per year. Jim and Carol Wyban slowly brought Lokoea, with was full of junk fish when they took over in 1981, to “semi-intensive” levels, producing a few thousand pounds of fish and crabs per acre.Even so, it didn’t make money. “I left Lokoea a sad and broken person” in 1985, writes Wyban.She was the victim of a sentimental but false view of what Hawaiian fishponds were originally, a view that has cost taxpayers a lot of money, especially in Maui County.Wyban believes, as do many others, that Hawaiian fishponds were important sources of food. In reality, they had about the same prominence in the overall food economy of old Hawaii as truffles do in France — they produced a luxury food in limited quantities for a parasitic elite. Although Wyban does not do it, it is possible to use her own production figures to calculate how much fish the ponds did yield. It comes to, at most, four ounces per person per year.Enthusiasts who think there was a “secret” to fishponds which, if rediscovered, will make them economic are doomed to disappointment. The ponds never were economic in that sense.Wyban also thinks of the ponds of old as units in a happy, egalitarian society. “The ancient Hawaiians had no concept of private ownership of land and water,” she says.That is debatable. Though Wyban has read widely about fishponds and is now a consultant on the subject, she is seemingly unaware of the work of Karl Wittfogel.According to this scholar, “Ancient Hawaii certainly knew private possession of land.” And, to him, it was not a happy time for the ordinary person.According to Wittfogel, what he called “hydraulic societies” invented political oppression as a result of their need to manage their waterworks through a central authority. He focused on China, Mesopotamia and Egypt, but his 1957 book “Oriental Despotism” specifically included Hawaii as an example. It is subtitled “A comparative study of total power,” and while Wittfogel’s “Big Idea” is in disrepute as a general theory of political development, his strictures about Hawaii were about right.Luckily, today we could have the ponds without the oppression. Although the operators, modern kia`i loko, would never make significant profits and would require public subsidies, it would be well worth it. Benefits of active ponds include preservation of open shoreline, revival of Hawaiian culture, educational opportunity, low-impact attractions for tourists and increased spawn of valuable ocean fish.The fish grown in the ponds would be the least of it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Illustrated stories of Hawaiian Fishpond Lifestyles . . . Rating: FIVE Stars

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