Scientists research opihi populations in pursuit of sustainable harvests

Photo: NOAA


A group of researchers returned Monday from a two-week expedition to study opihi populations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Opihi is a delicacy in Hawaii and scientists say its numbers have been dwindling.

Scientists surveyed Nihoa, Mokumanamana, and La Perouse Pinnacle at French Frigate Shoals to determine in part what proportion of opihi populations are actually spawning at this time of year.

The ultimate goal is to develop sustainable harvest protocols over time.

“The monitoring we do at Papahanaumokuakea (Marine National Monument) is to learn about these natural populations with minimal impact, learn about when they’re spawning, how many there are, what sizes, and start to understand more broadly, not only looking at opihi, but looking at their habitat and the limu or algae that grow with them,” said Kanoe Morishige, University of Hawaii at Manoa Ph.D. student and opihi expert.

Community members, including fishermen and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, joined scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and University of Hawaii at Manoa in the expedition.

“There’s actually a lot more in-depth things than just the scientific sides, so with the partnership between the communities and the scientific, it’s helping us learn a lot more of what we know of opihi and what they know of opihi and how we can mesh that together so it’ll be easier for us to understand and to help perpetuate pono harvesting,” explained cultural practitioner William Mae-Huihui. “Without this trip, the bonding and connection with scientists and community members wouldn’t be the same, so I feel that we all learned off each other from the scientific side and the cultural practitioner side.”

The expedition also involved the first rigorous scientific investigation of limu in the area, led by a specialist from Waikiki Aquarium.

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