Last week I arrived in Hawai'i to begin a photographic adventure, doing my best to not be an obnoxious visitor. Fortunately my schedule is full of events and programs to avoid the typical tourist path. On Thursday my parents and I went on a tour of the Honolulu Fish Auction with one of our friends from N.O.A.A. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to learn about the fishing industry in the islands. Due to the effects of colonialism and mass market demands affecting Hawai'i I was worried about how it had an effect not only on the local population but also on the ecosystem. Fortunately thanks to organizations like N.O.A.A. fish crews are able to catch the deep sea supply needed for local restaurants and markets.
Upon hearing the word "auction" I was somewhat surprised, having always associated the term with luxury goods and works of art, but it proved to be a quick paced and calm means of selling fish. The most common catch of the day (as it is for many days) was Ahi Tuna, ranging between 140 and 250 pounds on average along with some Moonfish and other creatures. Buyers shuffled from row to row while the auctioneer rattled off prices increasing by 10 cents each millisecond. This continued on until all the fish had been purchased. Our tour guide mentioned that the most expensive fish was a 489 pound bluefin tuna which sold to a Japanese buyer for 1.8 million dollars. While the Honolulu Fish Auction has never reached that price, visitors will still pay very high prices for their fish. The philosophy of the fish market is quite similar to buying diamonds: size, quality, color, and cut. Core samples are taken from each specimen to look at how the fish has started to age (as it will start to decrease in value and quality as soon as it is brought out of the water), and cuts are made in the tail too look at the amount of fatty acids omega 3s, indicating the nutrition level of the fish. So while size can matter when it comes to the price of the fish, it is not as much of a concern as the quality.
As the Honolulu Fish Auction provides much of the fish (in particular Ahi Tuna) for not only the islands but the U.S. there is much concern for how this affects the local ecosystem, especially for animals such as sharks, sea turtles, and Hawaiian monk seals (which are only found on Hawai'i). To ensure that humans make as little negative impact as possible (along with making sure that all the boats have the propers licenses and certifications/trainings), N.O.A.A. regulates the fishing season by sending one representative out with each fleet of boats for the weeks or months necessary to haul in the catch. The representative will collect data on the catches as well as the interactions the boat has with sea turtles. If the interaction rate reaches a certain level then the ships have to return to harbor and fishing is shut down for the entire season. Fortunately that hasn't happened for some time, but that hasn't stopped the problems with the industry. While trying to be environmentally conscious and ensure that the reefs and natural heritage sites have enough room, organizations are cutting away from the room local fishermen have to work in, threatening not only their way of life but one of Hawai'i's primary industries. This would lead to further problems with fishing in international waters as well as being forced to take less sustainable and environmentally-damaging measurers.
Throughout the rest of my stay on Oahu I am trying to be highly conscious of the results of colonialism and the forced tourist industry, I am glad that Hawai'i is managing to preserve some of its traditions, even if it isn't in the most desirable circumstances. Indigenous populations are able to continue fishing and taking what they need from nature without damaging it, and it is a relief to see that the demands of the rest of the U.S. are being handled as well as possible. (On that note ATTENTION FELLOW PEOPLE FROM THE MAINLAND. Please take the time to recognize the effects and consequences of colonialism on not only Hawai'i but also other island nations that are typically seen as hot tourist spots. We shouldn't be traveling to these locations to be waited on hand and foot, we should be traveling to experience different cultures.) This is primarily why I prefer the term traveler to tourist. Tourist implies an expected level of comfort and privilege due to the effects of colonialism making nations reliant on the tourist economy, exaggerating the native traditions to pander to and fascinate the white tourist. Traveling (to me) implies a sense of willing to be uncomfortable, to be open to experiences and search for the authentic and engaging when allowed by the native population. With that being said, I'm looking forward to more adventures on Oahu. Until next time!
Open your mind, be brave, and be kind.
To See With One's Body and Soul
This blog documents all of my adventures, as well as my development into an artist, writer, and a better person.