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Fishponds
History and myths
Pond construction
Shore ponds
Inland ponds



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Shore ponds

Hawaiians built two types of ponds that extended the natural shoreline: loko kuapa (walled ponds) and loko `ume iki (ponds that draw little). Loko kuapa were the most common type of fishpond in ancient Hawai`i and were highly reliable in providing food from the sea. Approximately 127 of these ponds were built throughout the islands. Constructed in shallow waters, loko kuapa are formed by a rock wall that encloses a portion of the ocean. Owned by the ruling ali`i, these ponds were built at their command with labor contributed by the families living in that ahupua`a. The konohiki of the area supervised construction. After the fishpond was built, the kia`i loko was appointed as the daily caretaker who maintained the pond and protected it against poachers.

The massive stone walls of a loko kuapa enclosed a shallow bay or inlet or extended out in an arc between two points of land. Walls were constructed of coral and permeable rock such as basalt to allow the wall to absorb the pounding action of the water. These materials also allowed water to flow into the pond to reduce stagnation. The walls were designed to curve so prevailing currents pushed sand and debris around the wall rather than collecting it at one side. Stones on the outer wall - built without mortar - angled downwards so wave action worked to pull them tighter. Wall height, width and length varied depending on the size of the pond. The longest wall of any fishpond on O`ahu is at He`eia - the pond's sea wall is 5,000 feet long and encircles 88 acres.

A distinctive feature of the loko kuapa is its sluice gate. A grate of vertical wooden sticks built into the pond walls allowed small fish to enter from the open sea and prevented larger fish from leaving. Called a makaha, the grate aided water circulation, fish harvesting and stocking, and silt removal. Usually the loko kuapa included at least one or two makaha; some ponds had as many as seven. Ocean currents determined the location of the makaha with placement chosen to maximize circulation within the pond. The makaha was a natural location for animal or human poachers as fish swarming the entrance during high tides were easy targets. A guardhouse built on top of the fishpond wall next to the makaha was called a hale ka`i. The kia`i loko stayed here while guarding against poachers and attending to pond maintenance. As payment for his labor and vigilance, the kia`i loko was allowed to eat fish from the pond not reserved for the ruling chief.

A second type of shore pond - the loko `ume iki - was built into the ocean on coral reefs. These ponds are found primarily on Moloka`i and Lana`i. As with the loko kaupa, a wall of coral and/or basalt is built in an arc from the shoreline, but this wall is not continuous. Instead, it is broken up by stone-lined lanes leading into and out of the fishpond. These lanes were placed to take advantage of ocean currents and tides to flush the pond with fresh water and fish. The loko `ume iki was used like a large scale fish trap: during the tidal flux, a fisherman would catch fish by walking to the end of one of the pond lanes and casting a net over the mouth of the lane from a platform built there. The loko `ume iki was often designated for maka`ainana; in some instances women as well as men were allowed to fish there.

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