Loko I'a: Walled fishponds
Loko I'a are walled fishponds found on the coast. Their walls extend into the ocean, making the water in the pond brackish with salt water from the ocean and fresh water from the land. Often, the wall would completely encompass the pond, even along the land. Embedded within the walls are small breaks called mākāhā or slew gates. One gate was placed next to the ocean within the break and another was placed on the inside near the pond. These mākāhā could be lifted up and down to allow certain fish into the pond and to trap the desired fish between the gates. Building a loko i'a was a task that everyone within the ahupua'a partook. Rocks for the wall were passed down, person to person, from the upland rock quarries and were fitted very tightly to each other to prevent the escape of any fish.
During low tide, as the water ran out of the pond through the mākāhā, fish in the ocean would smell the nutrient filled water escaping the pond and gather near the gates. At that time, the outer gate was lifted and the fish were trapped between the two gates. Lawai'a often chose only herbivorous fish to be allowed into their ponds to ensure a high survival rate and keep the fish relaxed so they could fatten up quicker. The fish fed almost exclusively on the native algae that grew within the pond so lawai'a seldom had to provide their fish with additional food. Once inside the pond, the fish took care of themselves. Since they lived such a stable, low energy lifestyle, the fish were able to accumulate high amounts of protein in their bodies. This was significant for the Hawaiian people who often relied upon fishponds for food. Loko i'a were so efficient that one pond could often supply an entire ahupua'a with fish.
Today, a few ancient Hawaiian fishponds remain in the islands. Most are not fully functional, as they were during ancient times, but many are still used to raise fish. To learn more about fishponds and to visit one, read the interview with Kumu Hi'ilei Kawelo who is the Executive Director of Paepae O He'eia, a private non-profit organization that maintains He'eia Fishpond in Kahe'ohe Bay, and check out her website at www.paepaeoheeia.org.