A school of manini. Photo courtesy of UH/Jhana Young

The monetary, social and cultural importance of Hawaiʻi nearshore fisheries has been examined by researchers in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. The study argues that fully appreciating the multitude of benefits the nearshore fishery provides to society is a crucial step towards sustainable management, according to a University of Hawai‘i press release.

The multi-year study tracked commercial and noncommercial reef-fish value chains, which was conducted as a collaboration between researchers in the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and Conservation International Hawaiʻi. The study, “Follow that fish: Uncovering the hidden blue economy in coral reef fisheries,” was published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.

Small-scale fisheries support the well-being of millions of people around the world — even in a well-developed economy such as Hawaiʻi’s, they provide important economic as well as social benefits. The total annual monetary value of the fishery is approximately $10.3 to $16.4 million. The non-commercial fishery in particular provides huge benefits to the community — non-commercial catch is around three times reported commercial catch and is worth $4.2 to $10 million more annually.

However, the full benefits to Hawaiʻi also include the potential to provide over 7 million meals a year as well as less tangible but just as important benefits such as the perpetuation of culture, community cohesion and sharing knowledge with the next generation.

“Coral reef fisheries are often underappreciated, but our study reveals the important benefits they provide to the community,” said co-author Shanna Grafeld, a research associate in NREM at UH Mānoa. “Ensuring these benefits can be supported into the future is an important consideration for sustainability.”

The paper discusses a range of potential management strategies acting at different points in society, including streamlining the value chain to minimize waste and improve transparency in commercial fishing operations. Non-commercial fishing is more diffuse and harder to manage, but highlighting and prioritizing the many benefits the community receives from fishing may be a positive way forward.

“Fishers often feel demonized when regulations fall heavily on them,” Grafeld said. “But there are options to promote sustainability at all levels in the supply chain, from helping fish dealers minimize waste and educating consumers on choosing sustainable seafood to encouraging pono fishing and a mālama kai ethic.”

UH acknowledged NOAA for funding support of this research. This research was made possible by NOAA Saltonstall-Kennedy Award #NA15NMF4270332 to Conservation International Hawaiʻi.

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