Residents of the Last Hawaiian Fishing Village Look to Preserve Their Icebox

Photo: Miloliʻi Fishing Boats
Kānaka lawaiʻa search for ʻōpelu ko'a (fishing grounds) off of Miloliʻi. Known as Hawaiʻi's Last Fishing Village and famous for its dried ʻōpelu, Miloliʻi was designated a Community Based Subsistence Fishing Area (CBSFA) in 2005. - Photo: Kaʻimi Kaupiko

By Kama Hopkins, Aide to OHA Trustee Keola Lindsey, and Shane Palacat-Nelson, OHA Community Outreach Advocate, West Hawai‘i

For generations, Hawaiian communities have faced a barrage of technological advances, foreign influence and catalytic events that have altered and reshaped their cultural identity. Those who remain steadfast to traditional practices are few and far between.

Known by residents as the “last Hawaiian fishing village,” the rural village of Miloliʻi in South Kona on Hawaiʻi Island has an evolutionary story rooted in resilience and tradition.

Miloliʻi lineal descendant Kaʻimi Kaupiko, who serves as director for locally based nonprofit Kalanihale, grew up learning about the value of hard work and the need to mālama your place. “The ocean is our icebox. We rely on it to sustain us,” said Kaupiko, recalling the resilience of Miloliʻi residents in responding to changes that put pressure on their way of life.

Faced with climate change, the current pandemic and an influx of ideas about economic development and sustainability, Kaupiko and other lineal descendants heed the lessons of their kūpuna. Drawing inspiration from the traditional kapu system that was in tune with ecological cycles, the importance of ancestral resource management practices is paramount. Ensuring that everyone is well fed was once the kuleana of the konohiki (traditional land manager) for each ahupuaʻa. Now it is our kuleana as a community.

Kaupiko acknowledges that traditions have changed and evolved, referencing the shift from paddling canoes to the gas-propelled ones now used for catching ʻōpelu (mackerel scad). The resources have been impacted too – the negative consequence of over-harvesting and the unsustainable fishing practices of folks who don’t respect local values is that fish populations have been depleted.

Witnessing these changes to their “icebox,” Miloliʻi kūpuna and residents in the 80s and 90s worked hard on efforts to mālama ʻāina. In 2005, they established a Community Based Subsistence Fishing Area (CBSFA) designation for Miloliʻi. Today, Kalanihale has taken on the kuleana of listening to the voices of the community to understand how they want to mālama their marine resources.

Formally established in 2012, Kalanihale’s mission is to improve education, environmental, and cultural wellbeing for community members of Miloliʻi and South Kona.

Carrying on a 30-year tradition, Kalanihale focuses on facilitating programs and community projects that help ʻōpio (youth) navigate new experiences outside of Miloliʻi Village, while staying rooted to ʻohana traditions. “Along with cultural exchange and sports programs, we’ve also facilitated much-needed health and wellness services and are collaboratively working to mālama the waters of Miloliʻi,” explained Kaupiko.

“We are reinvigorating konohiki practices through our participation in the Mōhala Nā Konohiki apprentice program with communities like Moʻomomi,” said Kaupiko. “We also recently convened our 11th annual Lawaiʻa ʻOhana Camp in June, are reactivating our Makai Watch Program, and have conducted biological monitoring of coral, fish and intertidal species.”

Since receiving their CBSFA designation in 2005, community members have participated in marine stewardship efforts that have guided the goals put forth in the Marine Management Plan that Kalanihale plans to submit to DLNR’s Division of Aquatics Resources (DAR) this month. The plan includes proposed rules and boundaries for their CBSFA designation.

Originally established to reaffirm and protect fishing practices customarily and traditionally exercised for purposes of Native Hawaiian subsistence, culture, and religion, the CBSFA designation provides a pathway for communities to secure inclusion of sustainable practices into state law so their resources can be replenished and preserved for generations to come.

The process outlined in the CBSFA guidebook can take years, even decades, of outreach with community stakeholders to ensure things are moving in the right direction. Many who work on place-based efforts to lawaiʻa pono (“fish righteously”) across the state see the CBSFA as a way for communities, nonprofits, researchers, and government to come together to make decisions about the co-management of resources in these areas. Along with Miloliʻi, the communities of Kipahulu, Maui, and Moʻomomi, Molokaʻi, also seek similar CBSFA designations.

To learn more about Kalanihale’s efforts to restore abundance to their icebox or for more info on the CBSFA review process, visit or contact Kalanihale Director Kaʻimi Kaupiko at or 808-937-1310.