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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 22, 2010

In rhythm with the sea

BY Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Mac Poepoe tosses his net into the sea. Poepoe, who helped found Hui Mälama o Moomomi in 1993 in an effort to stop overfishing in the bay, is the recipient of this year’s Hookahiko Award, which honors those who pass on Hawaiian traditions.

Photos by Alan Friedlander

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11 a.m.-1 p.m. April 9

Duke's Waikiki

Free and open to the public

The expo will include exhibits about box jellyfish and coral reefs from the Waikiki Aquarium, and invasive algae from a University of Hawai'i marine biologist, along with water safety presentations from city and county lifeguards.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Poepoe, a retired firefighter, is also involved in outreach programs that teach Molokaçi youth about sustainable fishing practices.

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At Moloka'i's remote Mo'omomi Bay, a surprisingly simple philosophy has made it one of the most bountiful fishing grounds in the state: Don't be selfish.

The philosophy is part of the Pono Fishing Calendar, a sustainability guide that helps Moloka'i residents manage the bay's marine resources. It urges people to not only respect the natural rhythms of the ocean, but also the ancient Hawaiian practice of allowing fish populations to restock themselves.

The success of the calendar, first published two years ago, prompted Duke's Waikiki to give its annual Ho'okahiko Award this year to the driving force behind this philosophy: Moloka'i conservationist Mac Poepoe.

Duke's will honor Poepoe with a private ceremony, but for the first time in the award's 12-year history, the restaurant also will host a public event to showcase marine conservation ideas. Its new Reef and Ocean Expo will feature exhibits on ecosystem management, box jellyfish, invasive algae, coral reefs, water safety and more.

The expo is a departure from what has always been more of a party for the honorees, said Ross Anderson, senior general manager for Duke's Waikiki.

"We met some great people, but it didn't get the message out to the broader community," he said. "I think it will be a lot of fun. It will be a nice first try at this."

Poepoe, a retired firefighter, helped found Hui Mālama o Moomomi in 1993 as a way to stop overfishing in the bay. The bay, which is isolated at the end of a single unpaved road, is used by many Moloka'i residents who engage in subsistence living.

"He will tell you it's their ice box," Anderson said. "That resource, being managed in a traditional way, is able to regenerate itself and provide for the people."

The calendar uses the phases of the moon to dictate when to fish and when to let fish stocks replenish. The practice ensures ample supplies. As a restaurant manager who "relies on those wonderful Hawaiian fish," Poepoe's philosophy hit home, Anderson said.

"He said you don't always eat your favorite fish," Anderson said. "You can't just go out there and keep taking it. It isn't the right thing to do, to go out and wipe out that species."

The Ho'okahiko Award was established to honor those who pass on Hawaiian traditions, and that's one of the key reasons Poepoe was chosen, Anderson said. Poepoe is involved in outreach programs that teach Moloka'i youth about sustainable fishing practices.

Anderson hopes the expo will come to embody that spirit. He thinks it will be a natural fit because every honoree has loved to teach.

"These people we have are sharing people," he said. "It is in their DNA. I think we are going to evolve this into an opportunity to explore more people and their art and craft and wisdom."