Fishing for Our Future With Lures From the Past

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.

Kealoha and Kaleo measure the length of an Aku for the Fish Box science experiments. Recent calls for fishery management are ecosystem-based, or require considering the interactions of all species within a food web; thus it is important to know who is eating who. Pelagic fish caught and consumed onboard will be analyzed by crewmembers by taking fin clip and stomach content samples. (Photo by Maui Tauotaha)

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.

For more information on the data that has been collected for our Fish Box experiments, please visit Science at Sea at

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Meet the Author
Marisa Hayase works with the Polynesian Voyaging Society to support Hōkūleʻa’s journey around the world. While sailing 47,000 nautical miles, Hōkūle'a and her sister canoe Hikianalia work to string together a “lei” of stories--big and small--that bring people together and inspire a new pathway forward for the health of our oceans and planet. The Polynesian Voyaging Society preserves and strengthens the traditions, values and knowledge behind one of the greatest feats in human history. Thousands of years ago, Polynesians found and settled islands scattered over 10 million square miles of ocean, exploring unchartered waters and using only the stars, waves, and marine birds and animals to guide them. Hōkūle'a was built 600 years after the last of the Hawaiian sailing canoes had disappeared from sight but not memory. Hōkūle'a brought traditional Pacific exploration back to life and helped spark a revival of Hawaiian language, culture and knowledge. She is more than a voyaging canoe—she represents the hope shared by people of Hawai’i, the Pacific, and the world that we can protect our most cherished values and places from disappearance. Marisa has worked with nonprofit and government organizations nationally and internationally, conducting research in South America, Japan, México, and Europe. She graduated from Williams College with a B.A. and has a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard University. A resident of Kailua, Hawaiʻi, Marisa is happiest when learning new things, building community, and spending time outdoors with her husband, son, and daughter.