Cave reef fish have evolved to have large eyes to help them see better in the low-light conditions of reef caves. The red color of both Mepachi and ‘Āweoweo allows them to seem invisible in dark reef caves where light cannot penetrate. Āhole are often seen in large schools and feed on small fish and invertebrates. They can be found in many different environments ranging from brackish water, tide pools, areas of strong surge, and caves within the reef. They tend to school during the day for protection and disperse to feed at night. Little is known on the reproduction biology of these fish. Āholehole is the only one of these fish that is currently regulated by the State of Hawaii.
Hawaiian cave reef fish consist of two types: flagtails (Āholehole in Hawaiian), including the species Kuhlia xenura and Kuhlia sandvicensis, and soldierfish (Menpachi in Hawaiian), including Myripristis berndti and Myripristis amaena. A fifth species is Āweoweo, or Bulleye, Priacanthus meeki. These species can be found inhabiting caves and crevices within the reefs during the day for protection from predators and go out to feed during the night.
The flagtail Kuhlia xenura is endemic to Hawaii and found nowhere else in the world. Both flagtail species look very similar, a silver relatively flat fish with sharp spines on its dorsal fins. The soldier fish are both red with a protruding lower jaw. The lower fins of M. berndti are red with white edges, while M. amaena have all red fins. The Bullleye are red in color and sometime exhibit faint dark dots along their back and fins.
This fishery uses a variety of artisanal methods to catch reef fish, including handlines, and pole and lines. Catch rates are low, usually only a few pounds per hour with little bycatch (discards). These small-scale fishing methods are similar to those traditionally used by native Hawaiians.
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