HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Researchers and scientists just back from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument have made what they call a "groundbreaking discovery" that could help marine managers devise strategies to help opihi thrive.
Amidst crashing waves, researchers spent 12 days clinging onto rocks and collecting opihi living on the rocky shorelines of Nihoa, French Frigate Shoals and Mokumanamana Island.
"Opihi has been managed the same way for the past 30 years and the fishery hasn't improved," said Scientist Chris Bird. "So what we're trying to do is demonstrate how the opihi populations in the main islands that are harvested are different than they are in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands."
During their expedition, they made a ground breaking discovery. They found that female opihi live higher on rocky shores than male opihi.
"So, getting an understanding of when spawning times are will help you to make better management decisions on when to harvest opihi. You can lay off resources while spawning and allow them to reproduce and have opihi for our next generation for years to come," said Cultural Researcher Shauna Kehaunani Springer.
They also noticed a difference in the size and taste of the opihi in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.
"It's a lot more bigger. The meat, since we just ate them off the rocks, was a little tough," said Springer.
There are only a few rules in place to protect the tasty island delicacy. They have to be a certain size to be picked; 1.25 inches with the shell and pickers must have a commercial fishing license to sell opihi.
Researchers say there's much more to be learned about the species.
"We need to manage the fishery better and to make sure there's more opihi on the rocks and more opihi on people's tables," said Bird.
The team will gather more information on their return as this is the 4th year of a 5 year project.