‘Ōpelu, or mackerel scad, is a common tropical fish found around the world in huge schools either inshore or in the open ocean. In Hawai‘i, this fish traditionally was a staple food for many people and continues to be eaten in small fishing villages. Along with being a food source, ‘Ōpelu are often used to catch larger fish such as marlin and ahi tuna.
‘Ōpelu are black metallic to blue green and are silvery white along the belly. Their tails are yellow-green and have a small black spot on its operculum, or gill plate. ‘Ōpelu resembles a mackerel with a long and slender body, similar to that of Akule, but more elongated. It has a sweet, oily flavor similar to mackerel and is great for grilling.
‘Ōpelu are unique in that they spend their life between two marine habitats, the coral reef and open ocean. They are classified as “coastal pelagic” fish and can grow up to 18 inches. ‘Ōpelu aggregate when spawning, whereby they spawn pelagic eggs that hatch into pelagic larvae. The traditional Hawaiian kapu system for managing fisheries banned ‘ōpelu fishing from March through July during the its spawning period. Juvenile fish swim inshore where they mature and form adult schools by the time they reach sexual maturity at seven to 10 inches, or about 18 months old. They feed predominantly on zooplankton, or small fish, and crustaceans that live in the water column.
This fishery uses a variety of artisanal hook-and-line methods to catch coastal pelagic fish such as tuna, marlin, swordfish, mahi mahi, wahoo (ono) and others. A pole and line with live bait scattered into the water is used to catch feeding skipjack tuna. Trolling with lures and lines, and handlines with lures, lines and bait bags are used to target larger fish such as bigeye tuna, swordfish, mahi mahi and wahoo.
This traditional Hawaiian fishery uses "palu," or vegetable feed in Hawaiian, to attract fish into schools which are then surrounded and captured using a hoop net from canoes.
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