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Aloha from the Oceanic Institute:

Restoring the health of Hawai'i's ocean

by Dr. David Ziemann


The world is facing an alarming conflict in natural resource management: continuously increasing demand and declining supplies.

The situation is especially acute in the area of marine fisheries, where two-thirds of the world’s fisheries are heavily overfished or entirely depleted. Within the United States, 96 commercially important species have been declared overexploited and a majority of Hawai‘i’s coastal fisheries are depleted.

Traditional methods of restoring fisheries — limiting the catch, size, or season when you can catch them — are not enough to restore these threatened fisheries to health. Natural recovery can take 50 to 100 years for a depleted fishery to return to sustainable levels — and that simply is not fast enough.

But speed is not the only issue. The challenge for marine scientists, fishery managers, and aquaculturists is to respond to this growing demand for fisheries and aquaculture products in a manner that sustains our natural resources. And that is where the Fisheries and Environmental Sciences Department of OI fit.

Unlike in the other departments at Oceanic Institute, our s is devoted not to aquaculture, but to fisheries ecology research. Our goal is to foster the responsible use, preservation, and restoration of living marine resources. By understanding more about fish — how well they survive, how fast they grow, how fast they move to other locations, and how quickly they mature — researchers like the ones in our department can ascertain how to protect and preserve fish in the wild.

OI has the facilities and environment for conducting large-scale experiments with fish bred in captivity. But breeding fish in captivity is only one part of the equation; successfully returning them to the wild is another. My fellow scientists and I work to ensure the healthy fish they are releasing will survive and their habitat will be safeguarded. This two-pronged research seeks to uncover the dynamics of the fishery and evaluate the effectiveness of stock enhancement technology for restoring it.

As challenged as we are by intense local harvest and habitat loss, our team knows that stock enhancement can act only as a component of an integrated management strategy that also includes the licensing of fishermen, improved data collection, enforcement of existing fisheries regulations or changes to these regulations, and the establishment of marine protected areas.

Investigations on several fronts comprise the multi-dimensional work being done each day by our eight scientists who make up OI’s Fisheries and Environmental Science Department and account for the innovative approaches to environmental management for which we are widely known.



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