The first squeals of excitement were heard about a minute after the Keiki Fishing Derby began Saturday at Kahaluu Beach Park. Three boys holding homemade fishing bamboo poles and standing on different sides of Waikuaaala Fishpond pulled in their lines within seconds of each other, bringing up tiny tilapia.
It was hard to tell who was happier — the children or their parents. Both glowed with pride as they placed the fish in their buckets and baited their barb-less hooks again with doughy Love’s bread.
The tournament’s good start received claps, whoops and cheers from other competitors and onlookers. The celebration was brief as participants continued watching the water’s surface and casting. All were determined to catch the most fish or the biggest one.
Nearly 50 children, ages 7 to 15, participated in this free community event, which taught environmental stewardship while hooking youth on fishing. It was organized by The Kohala Center’s Kahaluu Bay Education Center. All donations received during registration will be go toward enhancing the bay’s natural environment through educational, public outreach and research efforts.
Cindi Punihaole, program director of Kahaluu Bay Education Center, said the goal of the Keiki Fishing Derby was to reduce the aggressive tilapia population, bring families together in a fun way, and spread awareness about the area’s history and ecosystem health.
The idea for the tournament came from Ronald Sakata, a park caretaker for the county Department of Parks and Recreation. Sakata said he wanted to help create something that would allow families to enjoy the land together, but also stress the importance of respecting and taking good care of it. With the tilapia biting and everyone smiling, the event proved to be an instant success, he added.
The Kohala Center, Hawaii County, and numerous volunteers have been restoring Waikuaaala Fishpond since the March 11, 2011, tsunami inundated the area. This brackish water pond, located near the center of the park, was once a royal bath for alii, Punihaole said.
Before the restoration started, the pond was mucky and overgrown with nonnative species. Removing the tilapia, which competes with native species for food and space, is important in limiting its spread. There are plans to eventually put in native fish and plants, Punihaole said.
For Punihaole and Sakata, events like cleanup workdays and the Keiki Fishing Derby not only help the regain the pond’s glory, but also teach respect and reverence for the bay’s natural and cultural resources. These hands-on opportunities tend to make a lasting impact, they said. The Kohala Center wants to make the fishing derby a continual event.
Daniel Kauth of Kona Aquaponics estimated there were at least 1,000 tilapia in the pond. All 373 tilapia caught Saturday went to Kona Aquaponics, which will raise the fish for food and use their waste to fertilize vegetables.
Kauth called the collaboration “a win-win situation.” He attributed his involvement Saturday to his love of Kahaluu Bay, a place he’s enjoyed since the 1980s.
Waimea resident Nicole Yagong brought her 10-year-old son, Tevin Hanato, to the tournament because he dreams of fishing. Hanato has been fishing since he was 2 years old. “It’s more than a skill or sport. It’s his passion,” Yagong said.
Hanato said he’s grateful for his father and grandfather whom he fishes with regularly. He hopes to someday follow in his father’s footsteps and make a living fishing, which he said “is a good way of life and good way to make money.”
Hanato’s strategy Saturday consisted of being patient and quick.
Yagong said fishing tournaments are sort of rare for children his age. She thinks there should be more of these events and fishing clubs for youth, especially since not all children are interested in organized sports.
Prizes for the Most Fish Caught, Biggest Fish Caught and Best Homemade Fishing Pole were awarded Saturday to boys and girls in two age divisions.
The winners with the best fishing poles were Tye Galigo, Victoria Lindersmith, Aidan and Gavin Lewis, and Zea Levin.
Dayhtan Barawis caught the most tilapia, with a total of 53 fish. Other winners in this category were Kristy Galan (35 fish), Siprs Kaawa (24 fish) and Tiffany Bayudan (five fish).
Barawis, Galan, Bayudan and Henry Cho IV caught the biggest tilapia in their division. Their winning fish ranged in size from 5.75 inches to 6.5 inches.
For more information about the tournament or Kahaluu Bay, visit kohalacenter.org.