I grew up in Pearl City, Oahu, and when I was young, my mother would take me to Ewa Beach to pick limu regularly. There was an abundance of limu that my mother would barely have to get wet as she harvested the limu on the shoreline. I remember picking limu manauea (ogo), limu lipoa, limu wawae ‘iole, and limu kala. Environmental damage from large-scale construction, improper or over-harvesting of limu, and climate change have all contributed to barren shorelines.
Another huge issue for our fisheries is the current state of our society. Through my instruction of culinary education, I have discovered that most students cannot identify common local fish, nor do they have any recollection of ever eating them.
Fish such as akule, ‘opelu, menpachi, and ‘aweoweo have little resonance with many. Most have never fished for them, never eaten them, and they don’t understand how this food source is integrated with our food culture in Hawaii.
Many parents don’t take their children fishing or harvesting, they stay indoors and play video games. This action keeps critical information from being passed down, and eventually will cause us to lose the key to what makes Hawaii so special from the rest of the world — knowledge of heritage foods and culture.
The reality is simple — without any knowledge, connection, love, or respect for our natural resources, the next generation will not take care of and perpetuate them.
Although the outlook seems bleak, there is hope. Efforts are being made by Hui Maka‘ainana o Makana, Waimanalo Limu Hui, and Vivian Ainoa of Molokai to restore our ecosystems and pass down vital cultural information to the next generation. I was inspired by my recent participation in a Seafood Summit co-hosted by Conservation International and how increased community collaboration like this will be crucial to finding solutions for ocean sustainability.
Hawaii needs more community ambassadors to perpetuate sustainability and encourage all to appreciate the ocean. This is one of the reasons I founded Na‘au Hilo — to better understand our roots and progress local cuisine through culinary experiences. Our food culture needs to be preserved, and a deeper understanding of heritage ingredients must be passed on.
We all must realize that we only have one home — Earth, and our ocean is the mother for all living creatures on this planet. Let’s find ways to make her thrive again.
Brian Hirata is a resident of Hilo and founder of Na‘au Hilo.