In ancient Hawai‘i, fishponds were an integral part of the ahupua‘a. Hawaiians built rock-walled enclosures in near shore waters, to raise fish for their communities and families. It is believed these were first built around the fifteenth century.
The ancient Hawaiian fishpond is a sophisticated land and ocean resource management technique. Utilizing raw materials such as rocks, corals, vines and woods, the Hawaiians created great walls (kuapā) and gates (mākāhā) for these fishponds.
It is reported that there were 488 fishponds statewide, however only about 60 fishponds remain recognizable today.
Thirteen fishponds have been restored statewide, with six ponds currently in use: three on Molokai, one on the island of Hawai‘i and two on O‘ahu.
Reportedly, O‘ahu alone had 97 fishponds, but only six accessible ponds remain today and all are located on the windward side.
In 1848, when King Kamehameha III pronounced the Great Māhele, or land distribution, Hawaiian fishponds were considered private property by landowners and by the Hawaiian government.
This was confirmed in subsequent Court cases that noted “titles to fishponds are recognized to the same extent and in the same manner as rights recognized in fast land.”
Some coastal fishponds are privately owned. Over the years, many of them have been filled and, typically, developed with houses.
Loko Nui o Wailupe, the large fishpond at Wailupe, was simply called “Wailupe fishpond” or “big pond” in Boundary Commission records (it was also referenced as Punakou Pond).
The pond covered an overall area of approximately 41-acres. Its perimeter wall was approximately 2,500 feet long; it had four mākāhā (sluice gates.) The typical section of the wall was approximately 2-feet thick.
It was claimed as Crown land together with the Punakou spring (Punakou spring was formerly on the mauka side of Wailupe fishpond.)
Wailupe Pond is an example of an ancient fishpond that was subsequently filled and developed. It was one of a few historic fishponds that were built on the shore of Maunalua Bay.
Some of the others include Niu, now Niu Peninsula and Kuapā at Hawaii Kai, now Hawaii Kai Marina.
The pond lay within the Wailupe ahupua‘a owned by the Hind family. Apparently, the tsunami of 1946 severely damaged the seaward walls of the pond.
The Hinds then sold the property to Lowell Dillingham (owner of Hawaiian Dredging Company) who lived nearby.
In 1947, Robert Hind, Ltd began developing Wailupe Valley as the residential community of ‘Āina Haina. In 1948, in conjunction with the development of the valley, the Hawaiian Dredging Company, owner of the historic fishpond, converted it into a residential subdivision.
A deep channel (depth of approximately 12 to 20 feet) was dredged around the pond, as well as a channel through the reef to the open ocean) and dredge material filled in the pond, creating what is now Wailupe Peninsula (commonly referred to Wailupe Circle.)
The fishpond was filled with more than half a million cubic yards of coral (the at-grade elevation of the Peninsula is approximately five feet above mean sea level (msl.))
When the boat channel was dredged, a narrow margin of shallow reef (approximately 10 to 20-feet wide) was left to remain between the perimeter seawall and the boat channel.
Times and land uses have changed. What once was a fishpond is now a residential community; Wailupe Pond is an illustration of that.