In Hawaii, catching, preparing, and eating fish is integral to our culture and our everyday lives. From the ubiquitous poke plate lunch to the opah and akule I serve in my restaurants, we are fortunate to have an abundance of seafood options found off our shores.

That abundance and the demand for local fish has enabled Hawaii fishermen to make Honolulu a top seafood port in the United States, with landings of fish valued at roughly $104 million in 2017.

It is not just Hawaii where seafood is celebrated — the U.S. boasts some of the best managed fisheries in the world, making American seafood a preferred choice for chefs around the country.

But this wasn’t always the case. Until the mid-1990s, many U.S. fish stocks were being caught at an unsustainable rate, depleting the ocean of many of the species we love to eat.

Fortunately, after key changes were made to a federal law known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act, 47 of our country’s fish stocks have now recovered from perilously low levels and can be fished sustainably. For chefs in Hawaii and beyond, that means we can have access to sustainable U.S. seafood on a regular basis.

That’s good for the fishermen, our customers, and our business. Yet, while our management system is strong now, Hawaii’s fishing future faces new challenges, many driven by climate change.

Bluefin trevally are one of 7,000 species within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, an area that the author argues must be protected. Courtesy: Lindsey Kramer/USFWS

The man-made emissions of carbon dioxide that cause climate change are making the ocean warmer and more acidic and starving it of oxygen. Last year, the ocean was the hottest it has ever been, wreaking havoc for fish stocks and marine wildlife, including our iconic humpback whales.

At the same time, the hot, acidic waters are bleaching and killing the coral reefs around Hawaii that provide commercial, recreational and subsistence fishing, create world-famous surfing and diving locations, and are home to many of our fish and wildlife.

Recently, scientists have also concluded that climate change will lead to fewer and smaller bigeye tuna in the ocean, a blow to all of us that love cooking and eating ahi. Those and other fish stocks that are available could shift their traditional migrations, forcing fishermen to travel farther to catch them.

As overwhelming as this all seems, there is good news too. Scientists looking at climate impacts on fish stocks, including bigeye tuna, have come to an important conclusion: Fisheries that follow scientific advice, avoid overfishing and use precautionary management have the best chance of surviving and adapting in the face of climate change.

In other words, never has it been more important for us to maintain the strong, science-based management standards that helped many of our fisheries recover from the declines we witnessed just a few decades ago.

Nature-Based Solutions

Scientists have also concluded that Marine Protected Areas — areas of the ocean set aside for long-term conservation — offer a nature-based solution to support global efforts towards climate change adaptation and mitigation for fish stocks and other marine species.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, MPAs provide areas in the ocean of reduced stress, where fish, whales and other species can adapt and thrive in a changing ocean. That is why places like Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument are so important.

Hawaii’s fishing future faces new challenges, many driven by climate change.

On Friday, Congressmen Ed Case and Jared Huffman will host a listening session here in Honolulu to hear from stakeholders about the MSA and fisheries management in the Western Pacific.

It is critical that they and the rest of our elected leaders hear loud and clear that, given the ongoing threats posed by climate change in the Pacific, it is imperative that we uphold the MSA’s proven processes to follow the best scientific advice, rebuild depleted fisheries and ensure the adoption of the accountability measures that make our system work.

It is also critical that we maintain marine protected areas like Papahanaumokuakea.

We need our elected officials and fisheries managers to respect and maintain science-based, sustainable fisheries management and ocean conservation tools to ensure that we have seafood available now and in the future.

Only by keeping strong management and precautions in place can we be sure that Hawaii’s traditions, ecosystem and fishing industry will survive and thrive in a changing ocean.

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About the Author

  • Ed Kenney
    Ed Kenney is the chef/operator of four restaurants in Honolulu (TOWN, Kaimuki Superette, Mud Hen Water, and Mahina & Sun’s) that aim to serve local food, including local seafood, whenever possible. He is on the board of directors for the Kokua Hawaii Foundation and is a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Blue Ribbon Task Force.