Bonefish Netting in Hawaii
Hawaiian fisherman harvesting a large number of bonefish using nylon netting.

Recently, the picture seen below -- which depicts Hawaiian fisherman net harvesting bonefish from Hawaii's waters -- has circulated around the internet and has stirred up a long running debate regarding the practicality of harvesting bonefish as a commercial catch.

Opponents of net harvesting of Hawaiian bonefish, known locally as o'io, are attempting to have these fish placed under gamefish status by Hawaii's governor. Once under gamefish status, killing bonefish would not become illegal, but Hawaiian bonefish would be harvestable only when caught by rod and reel, thus ending the ability of local fisherman to harvest large catches of bonefish via netting.

These opponents cite numerous reasons for placing Hawaiian bonefish under gamefish status. Proponents of gamefish status for Hawaiian bones cite the increased economic value Hawaiian bonefish that swim in Hawaii's waters, as opposed to those sold commercially at market. Bonefish bring tourists from all over the globe to fish for Hawaii's abnormally large and elusive bones, tourists which contribute thousands of dollars to the local economy. Opponents of current net fishing tactics also cite the indiscriminate nature in which bonefish of all sizes are harvested, calling these methods unsustainable.

Defenders of net harvesting tactics claim that harvesting of bonefish is an established part of Hawaiian culture and that attempting to prevent local fisherman from doing amounts to depriving them of their right to subsist. Others cite cultural sensitivity and elitism, claiming that the bonefish defenders would have no voice of concern were it not for the attractiveness of the bonefish as a sport fish.

Many of those leading the charge for Hawaiian bones to be placed under gamefish status are careful to point out that the culture of local Hawaiian fisherman is an important concern that is, rather than being left out, an integral part of the debate. One Hawaiian bonefishing guide, known as Coach Duff, wrote the following in response to an article on the topic recently posted on the blog Bonefish on the Brain, "The Hawaiian people had their language stolen, their HULA stolen and their land and kingdom stolen. They gained alot with our presence but lost alot too, some culture that was lost forever. We have to honor that." According to Duff, those who seek gamefish status for Hawaiian bonefish don't seek to keep bonefish off the dinner plates of subsistence fisherman.

One group has established an online petition it plans to deliver to Hawaii's governor, Neil Abercrombie. According to the petition, "Hawaiian Bonefish are extremely susceptible to mono-filament gill nets and continue to be harvested at an alarming rate. These highly regarded sport fish are sold in local markets for pennies a pound to benefit a very few individuals at the expense of the rest of [the] community."

You can view and sign the petition here.


Leave local people alone and keep your beliefs to yourself. I was swimming at Waimea Bay this Saturday and there were swarms of baby Hawaiian bone fish. These fish are not scarce. I have lived here for 48 years and people come here from the mainland and try to change our way of life thinking they know better. How's catch the bone fish with a rod and real and leave everyone else alone.

The only person that would say that, is someone that no can fish with rod and reel gotta use net and take um all. U lucky we no catch u with the net we wrap I'm round your neck and trow u in the water.

Mari -

You expect one netting to result in all the bonefish being gone? It is something that happens over time. And, from what I understand, the current culture of mass-netting bonefish isn't a traditional one. I've also read repeatedly that it is the worst segments of Hawaiian culture performing the netting.

Virtually EVERY other state, country, you name it where bonefish swim have seen the sense in protecting these fish from gillnet harvesting.

I guess Hawaii knows better. After all, it's worth destroying a major segment of the tourist economy so that a small few can sell bonefish to the market for $1 a pound. Right.

What are you going to do with that many oio?! Nets need to be banned as well as enforced. Netting takes all sizes and other species as well.