ʻŌpelu was Our Way of Life

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Photo: Jodi Matsuo

Every morning at 3 a.m., the clatter of buckets, the gush of water, and the crunch of ice being scooped was my alarm clock for the day. These familiar sounds are what I experienced throughout my childhood.

It wasn’t unusual, as my father is an ʻōpelu fisherman, one in a multi-generational line.

Catching and drying ʻōpelu is an art from, requiring techniques only acquired by working alongside one’s elders. From learning how to nurture the koʻa and catching only mature fish, to salting and drying it till “just right,” all required a certain level of experience, patience and time.

Many weekend and summer days were spent down at Nāpoʻopoʻo, watching over our rows of ʻōpelu-filled screens drying in the sun. When we’d complain we were hungry, my mother would grab a few keiki-sized ones from the screen and toss it to us for our snack.

Although it may seem an unusual snack, ʻōpelu contains valuable nutrients. It’s an excellent source of protein, B-vitamins, and many beneficial types of fatty acids, such as stearic acid, oleic acid, and DHA. Dietary stearic acid has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, while improving heart function. Oleic acid may reduce risk of heart, autoimmune, and inflammatory diseases. DHA can help reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, ADHD, and risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer and glaucoma.

There is no doubt that consuming ʻōpelu contributed to the vibrant health of our ancestors. Going back to simple, traditional foods may help us achieve the same.


Born and raised in Kona, Hawaiʻi, Dr. Jodi Leslie Matsuo is a Native Hawaiian Registered Dietician and certified diabetes educator, with training in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Follow her on Facebook (@DrJodiLeslieMatsuo), Instagram (@drlesliematsuo) and on Twitter (@DrLeslieMatsuo).