By Nahaku Kalei
As island people and Worldwide Voyage sailors, we have a close relationship with food from the sea. Along with being a healthy source of lean protein, fish caught on the Hōkūleʻa and Hikinalia canoes is one of the most low-impact food sources we can utilize because, unlike other foods which have been processed, transported, and loaded onboard, fresh fish has a zero-carbon footprint.
Our fisherman, Kekaimalu, crafted two traditional lures in the pa hi aku style—one named Kaiwikuamoo (whose stringer resembles a backbone and displays a dark green, almost black pattern), and the other named Kana (rootbeer-colored with a swirling stringer resembling the demi-god Kana who twists and turns). This style of lure is designed with stabilizers to be trolled behind the canoe, enticing delicious aku fish. Modern lures are usually made with an epoxy head, rubber skirt and double hooks. They utilize different colors for different fish, but like traditional lures, are designed to mimic the movement of prey fish.
Each day, as the eastern horizon begins to glow with its first light, Kekaimalu puts out two handlines—one from the stern of each hull. One line runs a traditional pa hi aku and the other runs a modern lure. Both lines have a “bird” to splash in the shallow surface water and attract the fish’s attention.
Each time we land a fish, the lawaiʻa (fisherman) separates meat for eating and we take a look at stomach contents and gonads. Gonads are part of the reproductive system. In males they hold sperm, in females, eggs. Some fish will store up sperm or eggs in the gonads until the right combination of environmental cues tell them to release their contents for mating. This natural process of releasing sperm and eggs is called spawning. Some species only spawn once or twice a year, and when they do, they put out thousands of pieces of genetic material, which, if fertilized, can result in thousands of baby fish.
Fish stomach contents can also be very interesting because if we can identify what our favorite fish eat we can think about where and how those prey fish live. This gives us a better idea of how our fish spends its time and allows us to gain a better understanding of how we can help malama, or care for, the environments of the fish. Each time a fish is caught we also record a GPS marker and take a clipping of the fish’s dorsal fin to save it for an ongoing university study gathering genetic information on pelagic fish.