May, 1973 

A Paper Presented by William K. Kikuchi

Aquaculture is defined as the sea farming of seaweeds, mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and large marine animals. The prehistoric Hawaiian aquacultural system was, in the true sense of the word, composed of both aquacultural and nonaquacultural units. Native taxonomy did not distinguish, between the cultivation of fish, as accomplished in fishponds, and the trapping of fish in conjunction with the less dependable and less productive sites.


Eight general, descriptive types of aquacultural sites and 35 sub-types are differentiated by form, construction, function, and location. Of the 8 main types, 4 are fishponds, while the remaining 4 are fishtraps, dams, weirs, and fish shelters. Not to be discussed in detail here are selected areas into which certain seaweeds were transplanted and areas in which salt production was carried out.

The classic type fishpond, the Type I,  loko kuapa, utilized a large seawall, or kuapa in isolating a body of water along the seashore. 

Type II, pu'uone and type III, loko wai, were natural, inland bodies of water used as fishponds. Type IV, loko i'a kalo, were irrigated agricultural taro plots which were also utilized for the raising of certain types of fish.

Types V, VI, and VII were structures used in entrapping fish and were dependant upon the tide or season.  Type V were actually fishtraps of two sub-types, loko ume'iki and pa.  Like the Type I, loko kuapa, loko ume'iki were formed through construction of seawalls, but unlike the fishponds, these traps had lanes to guide fish to stations where they were gathered with scoop nets.  The "Pa", meaning wall, were smaller, V- shaped fishtraps of simple design and had fish guiding lanes. Possibly one of the earliest sites was found on Oahu.  The wall of this trap was completely covered at high tide and retained the fish with the lowering of the waters.

Type VI were natural pools of water near the shore which allowed small reef fish to be trapped at the ebb of the tide and which also served as holding pools for fish c aught. Type VII were composed of the upland weir-dam systems, built across streams in anticipation of the-freshets when fish were brought down from the uplands and entrapped through use of these structures. Large quantities of fresh water fish and crustaceans were obtained in this manner. Artificial fish shelters were sporadically used to furnish a place on which seaweed was allowed to grow to attract fish. Certain fish were then selected and were transported for stocking purposes to fishponds.



Islands. Probably many more actually existed in prehistoric times, especially the smaller, more rudimentary ones, as these were the kinds that were more easily destroyed or passed over for the grosser sites.

The distribution of fishponds seems to be directly correlated with the geomorphology of the islands.   
The ideal location for the Type I loko kuapa were bays and along shallow shoals where reefs formed a barrier to wave action. 

Types II and III were found in riverine, deltic areas and along relatively low alluvial lands where natural ponds and lakes were situated.     

Type IV were located wherever large irrigated fields and terraces were found, especially at the lower limits of these irrigation systems.   

Type V loko ume'iki were found in the same areas where the type I loko kuapa were found.     

The type VI natural pools were concentrated along jagged, un-eroded shorelines.  The type

VII dams and weirs could be utilized only in the upland areas where there were permanent streams.  

Artificial fish shelters, type VIII, were constructed only in shallow mud shoals where reefs and natural shelters were absent. 

Therefore, there is a predictability of the types of aquacultural sites to be found in an area. Likewise, the wide range of landforms, from the sea to the uplands, used for the catching of fish is indicative of the intensity of the tapping of aquatic resources by the prehistoric Hawaiians.

Within the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu had the greatest number and percentage of sites and types of sites found. Molokai claimed the largest number and greatest concentration of type V loko ume'iki fishtraps. All of the other main islands, with the exception of Kaho'olawe, had fishponds and fishtraps in varying numbers and proportions, but dominated by types II, III, IV, VI, VII,, and VIII, that is, all types, but the loko kuapa fishponds and loko ume'iki fishtraps.

The concentration of fishponds on Oahu seems to be correlated not with the concentration of political power there, but with the availability of shallow, reef protected shoals and bays and the large lagoon of Pearl Harbor. 

Obviously, these are the same areas where sites would be better preserved and protected from natural disasters and sea erosion, which may have eradicated many aquacultural sites in other, less ideal locations.


It seems that the Hawaiian aquacultural system was simply an aquatic type of agricultural industry. The land tenure system recognized the sites (even if they were 90% water) as being part of the land unit to which they were attached. Differentiation was made between the culture and trapping of fish in aquacultural sites and marine fishing, although some aspects of marine mores and folkways were transferred to aquaculture.

The one invention which probably gave the greatest impetus to the development of true fishpond culture was the sluice grate. This was a permanent, immovable structure, consisting of a weir of closely tied, vertically placed .sticks, which effectively allowed water to flow in and out of a pond, but which restricted the fingerlings of certain size and larger fish within the pond.
This, plus the generally shallow nature of fishponds, provided an artificial estuary where stocked fingerlings could grow. Unfortunately, the sluice grate also allowed the free entry of predator fry and spawn, and no allowance was made to prevent their entry. In order for the inland fishponds to be efficient, drainage of water was likewise necessary. In these types II, III, and IV ponds, a ditch was excavated to drain the ponds, as well as to feed water into them, in some instances. These ditches, as well as their associated sluice grates, were very similar to those found for irrigated agricultural plots.

In general, the Hawaiian fishtraps, fish shelters, dams, and weirs were not significantly dissimilar from those found in the rest of Oceania. On the other hand, fishponds in Hawaii were much more numerous, more widely distributed, and larger in acreage, and were technically advanced. In the rest of Oceania, with the exception of Nauru in the Gilbert Islands, the purpose of fishponds appears to have the been the holding, rather than raising of fish


By birthright and by right of conquest, everything and everyone within the island and/or domain of a high chief belonged to that chief, and he served as absentee landlord. Because of the increasing stratification of a native society, the royalty likewise became more bureaucratic. 

This bureaucracy became evident in aquacultural activities. Below the chief of a district was the konohiki or land supervisor, who was the chief's spokesman and personal representative. Under the konohiki came the kia'i loko, fishpond caretaker, whose function was to tend the pond and to harvest its produce. The haku ohana, the senior head of the tenant families that lived in a land district, was responsible for assisting with the occasional cleaning and the maintenance of the pond. His job was also to see that the resident extended family members served their lord in civil and martial activities. At the bottom of the strata was the working commoner.

Based on historic and ethnographic research, it appears that all fishponds, except for the smaller taro plot ponds, were always the exclusive property of royalty and were strictly controlled by them. 

On the other hand, conspicuous control of the remaining types seems to have been minimal or absent, as these sites were not continuous or reliable sources of foods, but were dependent on the natural fluctuations of nature, that is, on tide and season. Since, in the end, everything in the Hawaiian Islands belonged to the chiefs, these types, too, certainly were under the overall charge of the land supervisor, and it is likely that a percentage of their yield had to be given to the chief and his konohiki.

Evidently, the general population did not directly benefit from the presence of fishponds in their district. Increasingly, the conspicuous ownership by royalty of the larger, more productive and more dependent aquacultural sites saw the widening of the gap between the commoner and royalty, as was manifested in the total use and ownership of all fishponds and in the allocation of agricultural lands within districts for exclusive ownership and use by the royalty and their konohiki.

Political-Economical Aspects
The Hawaiian court was very mobile. Although there were selected shore areas that were rough equivalents to a capital, more likely a headquarters, the royalty frequently moved about, taking its entire retinue with it. This mobility and the general absence of large store- or warehouses are indicative of a trend toward the conspicuous control of the more productive sources of fresh food. 

The obvious advantage of status is one's ability to eat certain vegetable foods and fish at any time of the day, month, and season, and, more importantly to the chiefs, continuously during their sojourn in a district. And so the fishpond became the aquacultural equivalent of the agricultural kolelp, the land set aside strictly for the chiefs. Native wealth was seen not in terms of money, but, more tangibly, in food, such as pig, tuna, taro, and mullet.

The native aquacultural system probably was a relatively low yield technology. The most prolific source of fish, the fishponds, had porous seawalls and sluice grates which allowed predator fry to enter and to grow, feeding on other fish. Too little effort was spent in the elimination of predators and in the artificial fertilization of ponds for the aquacultural system to have developed into a true, man-controlled farming technology.

Using data from surveys taken of fishpond yields in 1900, it was calculated that pond yield was very low, averaging approximately 300 pounds of fish per acre per year. If we can assume that native prehistoric ponds had similar yields and that they were set aside for royalty, then a low yield was sufficient. Modern aquaculture views success as meaning high yield and the resultant high cash value of each fish. The decrease from 139 to approximately 3 fishponds in production today and the virtual extinction of fishponds as important sources of fish reflect the low yield of ponds and indicate that their original intent was not to produce a large quantity of fish, but was to indicate status. 

The Hawaiian aquacultural system started to stagnate and decline as soon as the royalty became more western oriented in terms of material culture and monetary value. The original integrating function of aquaculture was lost and its system atrophied.