Under Kingdom of Hawai‘i law, konohiki (resource stewards) had the responsibility of regulating the taking of fish and other marine life from Hawai‘i’s nearshore waters. To preserve the resources of Hawai‘i’s marine ecosystem, only the hoa‘āina (tenants) of each konohiki were permitted to fish in the konohiki’s designated areas. The 1900 Organic Act, however, specifically sought to terminate this traditional practice and open Hawai‘i’s fisheries to the general public. The act thus required all konohiki and hoa‘āina to register their rights to preserve them as “vested.”
Much confusion subsequently arose among konohiki, hoa‘āina, landowners, and future purchasers of land as to what fishery rights were vested or lost. Even today, the situation remains unclear, largely because existing cases reveal an unresolved conflict between Hawaiian and U.S. federal court rulings. This chapter reveals the extent to which, perhaps surprisingly, federal courts have habitually been more protective of konohiki fishing rights than their state counterparts.
Recent state constitutional amendments, legislative enactments, and judicial decisions suggest that konohiki fishing rights, although diminished, may reemerge, since a greater emphasis is now being placed on the perpetuation of Native Hawaiian customs. This chapter provides a detailed account of the arguments that have arisen over this important issue.
“Konohiki Fishing Rights” is Chapter 10 of Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise, a volume that updates and expands on the seminal work of the 1991 Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook. The publication is a collaborative effort of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law – University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and Kamehameha Publishing.