How Fish Get from the Sea to Your Plate

Some afternoons, after lunching on a mess of ahi furikake or fried ahi belly at Nico’s, the big fish restaurant down on Pier 38, I like to walk across the street and amble down the docks and survey the ragtag fleet of fishing boats tied up along the wharf.

Like many old sailors, I’m drawn to the waterfront. I like to listen to the Filipino and Indonesian and Micronesian crews joke and tell fish stories in the open stern houses of the boats. I like the hubbub of lading and cleaning and repair work as the boats prepare for their next trip. And I like the ceremony of mooring and unmooring, the dull shudder of the diesel as a boat springs out on a forward spring and heads off to sea, the wordless passing of lines along the quay as a returning boat ghosts into a berth. The working waterfront has always seemed to me a world unto itself, and a brief stroll along the wharf inevitably puts me in mind of older, simpler times.

But Hawaii’s fishing industry isn’t just a nostalgic relic of the past. It’s still a surprisingly important sector of the local economy, selling more than 23 million pounds of fish in 2010 with a total value over $87 million. More than half of the swordfish and nearly 80 percent of the bigeye tuna landed in the U.S. last year were caught by Hawaii-based boats. The industry directly employs hundreds of fishermen and indirectly supports a vast economy of chandleries, mechanics, electronics companies, boat yards, ice houses, and fishmongers. So, although few people visit the commercial harbors at Pier 38, or Kewalo Basin, or Wailoa Sampan Basin on Hawaii Island, Hawaii’s fisheries play a signature role in how we live here. But they’re also under increasing threat from environmental factors, economic pressures, and regulatory changes. To understand what those threats mean for Hawaii’s fishing industry, you have to know a little bit about its past and the institutions that guide its future.

Hawaii Fisheries
Hawaii loves its fish. We famously eat more seafood than any other state— more than nine ounces per person per week, twice the national average. And, although we import more than 60 percent of our seafood, that’s well below the mainland average of nearly 90 percent. This is a reflection of the vigor of our fishing industry. Hawaii fishermen bring in an astonishingly diverse catch, including nearshore fish, such as akule, opelu and uhu; bottomfish, such as opakapaka, onaga and hapuupuu; and most importantly, pelagics, such as mahimahi, opah and ono. But the most valuable catch are swordfish, yellow fin tuna, and especially, bigeye tuna. These fish are so prized that most of the other pelagic fish brought to market are just incidental, albeit profitable, by-catch for the swordfish and bigeye fishermen. Bigeye tuna, the source of the best quality sashimi-grade ahi, often wholesales for more than $10 a pound. This mix of high value fish makes the tiny local fishing industry a national powerhouse. Although the port of Honolulu only ranked 33rd in the country for the total tonnage of fish landed last year, by value, it was the tenth largest port in the nation.

Such a big, diverse catch means there’s a wide variety of fishing boats in Hawaii. Nearshore fish are caught from skiffs and Whalers and every kind of pleasure boat. Reef fish are even caught by spearfishermen towing kayaks behind them. In the bottomfishery, fishermen mostly use poles or handlines or electric reels, and work from open, trailerable boats with big, powerful outboard engines. Many of the boats in the commercial bottomfishery are based on Maui, which is close to the better fishing grounds. But the most economically important of the fishing boats in Hawaii is a fleet of about 130 longliners based out of Pier 38 in Honolulu Harbor and out of Wailoa Sampan Basin in Hilo Harbor. These low-slung, steel-hulled boats range from 64 feet to 100 feet, by regulation the largest they can get. They’re lumbering, full-displacement boats that cruise at only seven or eight knots. Because Hawaii is a fresh fish market, that means the boats have a limited range; they rarely stray beyond a 1,200-mile radius of the Islands so they can get their catch back to port while it’s still fresh. The fishermen will tell you that’s still a lot of ocean to cover.

Sean Martin, one of the major players in the Hawaiian fishing industry, puts it this way: “If you were to go 1,000 miles north, you’d be half-way to Kodiak. If you go 1,000 miles west, you’re two-thirds of the way to Midway. If you go a 1,000 miles south, you’re down in Palmyra. And if you go a 1,000 miles east, you’re half-way to the mainland. That’s the range of the longline fishery.”

Martin has been at the center of Hawaii’s fishing industry for 35 years. At 21, he already owned his own boat, a 64-foot aku boat called Finback that he operated out of Crescent City, California, pole-fishing for albacore up and down the West Coast. Aku fishing is one of the most exciting commercial fisheries for a young man. The fishermen use long fishing poles with unbaited, barbless hooks at the end of a short length of line. They chum the waters with live bait, then stand in the transom, dipping their hooks into the school of frenzied albacore or skipjack, flipping the big fish over their shoulders onto the deck behind them. Sometimes they catch hundreds in a day.

“There’s nothing more fun,” Martin says. “When you’re in your teens and twenties and you get to go around and do that, it’s not like work at all.”

But the California fisheries at the time were looking less and less viable for a boat like Finback. Then, in 1979, Hawaii Tuna Packers, a subsidiary of BumbleBee, sponsored a one-year experiment to test the viability of an albacore fishery in the North-West Hawaiian Islands. That looked like an opportunity to Martin, so he and Finback joined a fleet of 20 fishing boats and a specially rigged refrigerator boat that served as a mother ship and they all headed west in a flotilla.

“We left Crescent City on April 1 and basically fished two-thirds of the way to Japan.”

Martin and the rest of the experimental fleet spent the summer trolling for albacore in the NWHI, periodically transferring their catch to the mother ship so they wouldn’t have to return to port. At the end of the season, Martin brought Finback down to Honolulu, and after spending the winter buying new gear and rerigging the boat, he joined the small longline fleet at Kewalo Basin.

“I started longlining in 1981 and have been involved in the longline fleet ever
since,” he says.

Today, Martin and his partner, John Cook, own six longliners, ranging from
the 65-foot Finback, Martin’s first boat, to the 100-foot XXX, one of the newest boats in the fleet. Martin and Cook also own POP Marine Supplies, the main chandlery for the longline fleet, and Hawaiian Ice, which supplies ice for most of the fishing boats, and Cook is part owner of Nico’s, the seafood restaurant. In addition, Martin serves as president of the Hawaii Longliners Association and is the past chairman of the powerful Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. Few people know more than Martin about longlining in Hawaii.

“Longlining was developed in Hawaii before World War II,” Martin says. “It was called flag-line fishing back then, but it’s really the same fishery, though some people might argue it’s not. The fishery was suspended during the war, because most of the fishermen at that time were of Japanese ancestry and were prohibited from going to sea. After the war, it kind of revitalized again. Most of the boats back then were small sampan boats that fished within fifty miles of the Islands. There was a pretty good-sized fleet that operated out of Hilo and was supported by Suisan, the fish auction down there, and there was the fishery here on Oahu. I think the Honolulu fish auction, the United Fishing Agency, started maybe in 1951.”

The longline fishery hadn’t changed much when Martin arrived in the 1980s. Although it had absorbed a few California boats, like Finback, the size of the longline fleet remained fairly stable at 30 to 35 boats. But to ambitious fishermen like Martin, the Hawaii fishery looked like it had real growth opportunities.
That was largely because of changes in technology. “What happened,” Martin says, “was we heard about some different methodologies being used in the Atlantic, so I went to a fishing industry show in New Orleans and saw this new technology. Rather than use what we used to call ‘traditional rope line’, they used heavy-guage monofilament wound up on a big drum like you can see on all these boats out here now. I bought one of these systems and brought it back and put it on Finback and it turned out to be quite efficient and effective.”

Normally, fishermen are notoriously conservative, even superstitious, about change, but the new gear was basically a no-brainer, Martin says. “It took less talent to be effective and you could carry more gear and catch as much or, aruably, more fish than before. So we started importing that gear and providing it to people who were interested. That’s kind of how we built POP. That was in 1984, and I think, by 1988 or 1989, all the boats had changed, with the exception of one or two, to the more modern gear.”

At that time, the thriving Hawaii fishery was contrasted by fisheries on the mainland that were overfished and under growing regulatory pressure. In the Northeast, the cod fishery and lobster fisheries seemed on the verge of collapse. In the Mid-Atlantic, the crab and oyster industries, and even the menhaden fishery, once the largest in the country, suffered from radically shrinking catches. In the Gulf of Mexico, price wars that erupted between local boats and those owned by Vietnamese immigrants began to put pressure on the economic viability of the shrimping industry.

“Back then,” Martin says, “the longliners used to always operate out of Kewalo Basin, and one day 22 boats from the Gulf of Mexico showed up. They came in a big caravan, traveling across the Pacific from Panama. They were all Vietnamese immigrants who had been displaced by the Vietnam War and settled on the Gulf Coast. They had been longlining there for yellowfin, so it was a different fishery than ours, but they used similar gear, and I think some of the Vietnamese guys realized there was an opportunity out here, so they got together and said, ‘Go west.’ That was a kind of the explosion in the industry.”

It didn’t take long for that explosion to start having effects on how the longline fleet interacted with other fishermen, Martin says.

“When the longline fishery was relatively small—30 or 35 boats—we all sort of did our thing. But when all these new boats started showing up, there was significant conflict between different gear users. There were ‘shots fired’, I guess you might say. Then, Bill Paley, who was chairman of DLNR at the time, and was on the Fishery Management Council, brokered an agreement—at that time it was called a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, later on it became regulation—to keep the fleets separated. So, in order to preserve some opportunity for the small boat guys, we entered into a regime where there were some areas nearshore where longline boats couldn’t fish. Right now, there are still closed areas close to the Islands—50-75 miles, depending on where you’re at—where longline fishing is prohibited. That was really put in place not for any scientific reason, but for keeping the fleets separate.”

By 1991, Martin says, additional regulations began to affect the longline fishery. “As the fleet grew, there was significant concern that the growth was going to get out of hand. The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, commonly known as Wespac, is the regulatory body with responsibility outside of state waters—from 12 miles to 200 miles, in theory, but it’s actually from 12 miles out to wherever boats fish. They began putting into effect management regimes to limit new entrants getting into the fishery, as well as other regulations, like vessel-size limits and those kinds of things. They started that process in 1991, and by 1994 there was a pretty comprehensive limited entry program for the longline fishery in Hawaii so it couldn’t grow unfettered. Today, there are only 164 permits in the fishery, and have been since 1994; so that kind of stopped the growth. But, although all 164 permits are owned; they’re not all used. They’re freely transferable, so there’s been some changes over the years. Somebody gets out, retires, maybe their boat sinks, whatever. Maybe they sell their permit and somebody comes in and fills the void. Traditionally, there’s been about 130 boats, plus or minus, active in the fishery for the last 20 years.”

Environmental Regulation
Despite this apparent stability, fishing in Hawaii has always been a tumultuous business. In recent years, most of the upheaval in the longline fishery has been because of changes in environmental regulations, particularly rules stemming from the Marine Mammals Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. These new laws have forced fishermen—historically the cowboys of the sea—to behave more and more like shepherds. And more and more, that has put the fate of the fishery into the hands of scientists and bureaucrats.

It started with the birds. Longliners, particularly the so-called shallow-set fishery that targets swordfish (swordfish boats need the same permit as the bigeye boats, but use slightly different gear), used to catch hundreds of albatross each year. As the fishermen baited their hooks and tossed them over the stern, the big birds would swoop in and snatch the bait, often getting snagged by the hook. Because albatross are considered endangered species under the ESA, beginning in 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service, which regulates the fishing industry, required the longliners to develop new techniques to reduce the mortality rate for albatross and other seabirds.

The changes that the longliners came up with have been remarkably effective and are visible to anyone who looks at the fleet. On most types of fishing boats, the stern is left clear to accommodate the fishing gear. Trawlers deploy their booms and nets from the stern. Trollers have their outriggers there. On aku boats, the stern is kept open to leave room for the fishermen at the transom and to accommodate the big fish holds and live bait wells. But on the Hawaii longliner, the stern is often conspicuously occupied by a low house built of steel or tarpaulin-covered metal tubing. Frequently, the roof of this house is encumbered with hundreds of small buoys that are used to float the line when it’s deployed at sea. They give the longliners a cluttered, yard-sale look in port.

The actual work on a longliner usually takes place amidships. The big drum of monofilament line is stowed here. As crew bait the hooks and snap the long leaders on the line, a machine called a line thrower pulls the line off the drum and sends it arcing over the side of the boat. The leaders are spaced 200 feet apart and the line comes off the line thrower a little faster than the boat’s cruising speed so the baited hook has time to sink in the water before it’s passed by the stern of the boat. That’s what keeps the albatrosses from getting at the bait, and what gives the Hawaii longline fishing boat its particular profile.

Probably the most high-profile ecological problem for the longliners has been the sea turtle. Much like the albatross, turtles—mostly leatherbacks and loggerheads—used to target the longliner’s bait and sometimes swallow the hook or become entangled in the line. Before the turtles could be brought on deck, they were often badly injured and many were believed to die after they were released. As a result, NMFS forced the longliners to make more changes in how they fished. They were required to change their bait from squid to bait fish, like sonma or mackerel, because bait fish was more difficult for the turtles to eat than squid. They were also required to change tackle to big circle hooks, because the turtles had small mouths and were less likely to bite a big hook, and the circle hook is less likely to snag.

But the biggest change was a limit set on the number of “interactions” the fleet could have with turtles. To minimize turtle mortality, the NMFS instituted a rule that required the entire longline fishery to shut down for the remainder of the year once the fleet hooked or seriously injured either 17 loggerheads or 16 leatherbacks. In 2006, they reached 17 interactions with loggerheads by March 20, and the fishery closed for the rest of the year. (In 2011, they reached 16 leatherback interactions by November 18, but the fishery was given a reprieve by a new rule that allowed Hawaii longliners to use the quota from U.S. territories, like American Samoa, Guam, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. More on this later.) In both case, the fishery was shut down for the rest of the year. Not surprisingly, these new regulations were highly unpopular with the fishermen, who always believed the scientists estimates for turtle mortality were too high, and their estimates for the turtle population were too low.

To ensure the compliance of the industry, NMFS created an observer program for the longline fishery, a first of its kind in the country. Since 2008, 100 percent of the swordfish boats—the so-called “shallow-set fishery”—have carried a NOAA observer. In the deep-set tuna fishery, there are observers on 20 percent of the boats. The observers aren’t enforcement officers; they’re there to gather data on the fishery—for example, the size, species, and quantity of fish caught—and to keep track of turtle interactions and issues related to the Marine Mammals Protection Act. By law, the fishing boat owners are required to provide accommodations for the observers. But the longliners are small boats; they generally go out with just a captain and a crew of five or six, and many owners resent the intrusion of the observers. Nevertheless, the longliners are quick to point out that, since the program was introduced six years ago, turtle interactions have plummeted almost 90 percent. As a result, three years ago NMFS proposed raising the limits on turtle interactions.

“We haven’t approached those numbers in years,” Martin says. “Not in interactions, let alone mortality.”

Science and the fishery
Perhaps the most important artifact of the observer program has been the trove of longliner catch data. Fishery managers in other regions often have other sources of stock data. On the East Coast, for example, NOAA has its own trawlers and can conduct independent sampling to assess the stock abundance and size. (Fishermen in the Northeast, though, frequently disagree with their assessments, complaining that scientists use different gear and fishing methods than professional fishermen, so their catch data is incompatible with real world conditions.) But for Hawaii waters, observer data are sometimes the only data available to fisheries managers.

One of the main uses of the observer data has been to help researchers assess the health of the fish stocks for the Hawaii longline fishery and bottomfish fishery. These data are equivocal. For example, fishermen say the average size of the fish caught has remained fairly stable (albeit in slight decline,) which might indicate that the fishery isn’t over-harvesting the larger fish. That’s important because fish have to reach a certain age before they can reproduce. Large fish also have lower natural mortality rates—they’re less likely to be eaten by other fish, for example. But other data suggest the total population of fish is shrinking. Catch-per-unit-effort, or CPUE, has been slowly declining for many years. That means, for every thousand hooks set by the longliners, each year they catch a little fewer bigeye and swordfish.

It’s hard to know what to make of this conflicting data. Jon Brodziak, director of stock assessment at NMFS, points out that there’s also a lot of natural variability in a complex ecosystem like the marine fishery. “The ocean changes every year,” he says. “Productivity is up and down. The climate system is fluxuating. We have El Nino years, and we’ve got La Nina years, we’ve got mid- range years for environmental conditions.” Fishermen often point to this natural variability as the real cause of stock declines. Even as lobster stocks plummeted in the Northeast, for example, many lobstermen insisted it was a normal fluctuation in population. Fishermen in general are suspicious of scientific data of the fisheries.

Partly, that’s because of the abstract and contingent nature of science. For example, most of the stock assessment methods rely on statistical modeling, a process many fisherman find arcane. By looking at how catch-rates change through time, scientists create a sort of proxy for a direct count of fish, which, of course, is impossible. “If standardized,” Brodziak says, “the catch-rate is an observation, with error, of the relative abundance. But, in this process, you also have to account for changes in the fishery through time. Those changes might include spatial effects—where you fish; they may include changes in fishing gear or the deployment of fishing gear: and they may include other factors, like which species you’re targeting. If you’re looking, say, at billfish species in the Hawaii longline fishery, we know most of the captains aren’t targeting billfish. They’re targeting bigeye tuna or yellow-fin tuna, or perhaps swordfish for the shallow- set fishery. For the most part, they’re not targeting striped marlin, but that sampling is still providing us with information on the relative abundance and change in abundance of striped marlin through time.”

One recent example of how scientist use fishery observer data is an intriguing paper by Jeffery Polovina, a researcher and assistant director at NOAA’s Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center. By looking at data like catch-rates, catch effort (the number of hooks set, for example), and changes in the size and types of fish caught, Polovina tried to quantify the effect of the longline fishery on the pelagic ecosystem.

“We’ve been using the 15 years of observer data from the deep-set long-line fishery,” Polovina says, “and we’ve seen a real change in the species composition and the size structure of the catch. All the real top predators of the ecosystem— the marlins, the tunas, the sharks—have been declining in relative abundance, as indicated by catch-rates. The catch-rates have gone down 2 percent to 7 percent per year over the last 15 years. And what’s been coming up in catch-rates are non-commercial fish, like lancetfish and snake mackerel, plus a few commercial species, like mahimahi and escolar and pomfret.” In fact, lancetfish and snake mackerel now account for more than 30 percent of the total longline catch. There’s no market for them, though; fishermen toss them back in the sea.

Fishermen like to say that the average size of the tuna and swordfish they catch has remained in the 75-pound to 90-pound range for the last decade or so. That may not comport exactly with other observations—observer data show them slight decline—but, like most NOAA scientists, Polovina doesn’t think the industry’s current fishing levels are bringing the fishery close to collapse. “Of course,” he says, “it’s sort of like predicting the stock market collapse: It’s always easier in hind-sight; sometimes you just can’t see it until after it happens. But I don’t think the pelagic ecosystem is on the verge of a collapse. There are limits on the catch. They may be too high, but they are starting to rachet down the amount of effort in the harvest, at least for some key species, and that impacts fishing effort for the whole ecosystem. That’s a positive development. Likewise, in the bottom-fish fishery, there’s an annual catch limit also. That’s at least putting a stop to rising fishing mortality levels. If needed, we have the potential to reduce that.”

What concerns Polovina, though, is how the impact from longlining dovetails with broader ecological issues. “We’re facing a combination of top-down pressure from fishing,” he says, “and, going forward, bottom-up pressure from climate change, which we think reduces the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. That means the pelagic ecosystem is facing stress. And for now, we’re only measuring it or seeing it from the catch data. There may be other things that are changing that we’re not even seeing. Maybe other species are changing—squid or gelatinous organisms that we’re not able to monitor—so there may be bigger effects than what we see now just looking at the longline catch.”

When Polivina presented this information to , the fishermen were unimpressed. They pointed out that, even if the catch-rates for bigeye and swordfish are declining, the market price for these fish is rising fast enough to keep pace. The longliners are also in the unique position that much of their “by- catch”—the mahimahi, opah, and pomfret—also brings good prices in the marketplace.

Environmental criticisms
For Patricia Tummons, publisher and editor of the well-regarded environmental newsletter Environment Hawaii, this kind of industry insouciance is galling. Tummons’ coverage of the fisheries frequently gives lie to what she perceives as Wespac’s disingenuousness. One of the claims of the longliners, for example, is that, despite rumors otherwise, almost all the bigeye sold at the Honolulu fish auction is consumed domestically. In particular, they say that, although some tuna is shipped to mainland and Canadian markets, less than 1 percent is exported to Japan.

“People have this idea that the fish go to Japan,” says Sean Martin. “Really, Japan comes to us. That’s what I tell people. If you think about it, Japan comes to us in the form of tourism. Besides, Japan is a very competitive market, worldwide. There are however many planes a day coming into Narita or Haneda or anywhere else that are capable of carrying fish, so significant amounts of fish from other countries are coming into Japan. They don’t need Hawaii.”

But Tummons doesn’t buy it. In an editorial in the May, 2012, issue of Environment Hawaii, she writes: “The notion that the longliners practice subsistence fishing and that they sell 99 percent of the catch locally, foregoing the lucrative markets in Asia and the U.S. mainland—well, they make for a good story, but no one who has seen the frenetic bidding at the Honolulu fish auction, with Japanese buyers on the phone to their Japanese clients, would give it credence.”

Tummons also scoffs at what she sees as the audacity of longliners to boast about the reduction in turtle and bird interactions, pointing out in her June, 2012 newsletter that these conservation measures were enacted because of lawsuits brought by environmental organizations. For example, she notes that Paul Dalzell, chief scientist for Wespac, still doesn’t believe the longline fishery ever posed a serious threat to the turtle population, and yet Wespac still wants to take credit for the changes in longline operations that were put in place to protect the turtles.

For his part, Dalzell echoes Martin and other fishery members, describing Hawaii’s longline fishery as being at the forefront of marine conservation: first in the country to enact an observer program, an early adoptee of ecosystem-based vs. species-based conservation plans, and, of course, a major player in the conservation of sea turtles and seabirds. All true, perhaps, but according to Tummons, all after the fact.

More recently, Tummons has criticized the fishery and NMFS, which Tummons sees as a little too cozy with Wespac and longliners response to new regulations on the incidental taking of false killer whales by the deep-set fishery. These proposed rules, which could close as much as 150,000 square miles of ocean to longliners once two false killer whales are seriously injured, are another example of conflict between marine scientists and fishermen. Cetacean scientists believe false killer whales in the longliner fishing areas are under grave threat. Fishermen and NMFS aren’t convinced; they want to see more studies.

Similarly, Tummons points to a change in regulations that allows Hawaii longliners to sidestep their quota of 2,200 metric tons of bigeye by paying U.S. territories, such as Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, to cede their fishing quota to Hawaii boats. That’s how the Hawaii longline fleet continued fishing in 2012, despite reaching its limit in November. According to the Hawaii fishermen, this is just an exchange of U.S. fish among U.S. jurisdictions, but the truth is a little more complex. In fact, because these U.S. territories are considered Small Island Developing Countries by international law, they don’t necessarily have a firm quota. And, by Tummons’ calculation, the whole arrangement is just a ploy to avoid complying with international agreements.

But Tummons most vociferous complaints have been against the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Council and the way it conducts business. Wespac is one of eight regional fishery management councils created in 1976 by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. These regional councils are supposed to provide “science-based” fisheries management recommendations to the Department of Commerce. Ultimately, the Secretary of Commerce must sign off on any new policy or regulation; but in practice, regional fisheries councils like Wespac play a major role in the nation’s marine fisheries policy. For environmentalists, this has always been seen as the fox guarding the hen house. By design, most of the members of the regional fisheries councils are fishermen or tied to the fishing industry. Almost inevitably, this leads to an apparent conflict of interest. Since the principal tools of fishery management and marine conservation involve reducing allowable catches, limiting access to fisheries, or cutting fishery effort, fishermen stand to lose money—at least in the short-term—whenever science says a particular fishery is in danger. Environmentalists point out that fishery management councils have resisted new regulations even as the country’s fisheries declined.

Tummons has been particularly scathing in her criticism of Wespac executive director Kitty Simmons, whom Tummons believes has repeated violated federal XXX. She has accused Simmons and other Wespac executives of failure to fully account for expenses—the fisheries management councils are funded largely through federal taxes— spending lavishly on travel and entertainment, and running the council like a personal fiefdom, holding unannounced, closed-door meetings and promoting her own agenda rather than what’s good for the fishery. In a scathing 2012 editorial in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Tummons stated directly, “It’s time for Kitty to go.”

Sean Martin, former council chair, allows that Kitty Simmons is sometimes controversial: “Kitty is a lightning rod,” he says. “But I will say Kitty is very much an advocate for fisheries. That’s her job. And you could make the argument that that’s National Marine Fishery Service’s job too, but they have other pressures that they have to accommodate.”

Martin also believes that environmentalists overestimate the power of Wespac. “People have this idea that the fishery council is the power in fishery regulation, but that’s not really true; they just advise. And there are proposed amendments that are rejected—that the Fishery Service doesn’t agree with, that didn’t meet some criteria or something—and it’s ‘thank you for your advice, but no thanks.’ But if you look at the council’s record and what they’ve done over the last 25 years or so that I’ve been involved with it, in many ways it’s so far ahead of other regions and councils. The Hawaii longline fishery was the first limited entry program in the U.S. for a pelagic fishery. We were the first ones to have what’s called VMS—vessel monitoring systems—which means there’s a transponder that tracks the boats, so Big Brother is always watching.”

Environmentalists, of course, point out that Wespac resisted the implementation of most of these programs.

The international threat
And yet, all the focus on Wespac and the NMFS and the Hawaii longliners may be misguided. That’s because the bigeye tuna fishery isn’t really regulated on the local or national level; by treaty, it’s regulated by international bodies like the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, based in La Jolla, California, and especially the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission, based in Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia. The jurisdictions of these two bodies are basically split down the middle of the Pacific, at 140 degrees longitude, and Hawaii longliners fish in both. As a practical matter, though, the main action on the international front happens far in the West Pacific. That’s not only because the WCPFC is based there, but because that’s where most of the bigeye fishing mortality happens. Hawaii longliners, it turns out, contribute comparatively little to the total catch of bigeye. Last year, even with the added allotment from the Guam fishery, Hawaii longliners only caught 3,500  metric tons of bigeye. In contrast, the purse seine fishery in the Western Pacific— mostly giant, multi-million-dollar industrial boats from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia (and, it should be pointed out, the United States)—sucked up over 120,000 metric tons of bigeye.

The remarkable thing is that bigeye isn’t even the target fish of the Western Pacific purse seine fishery. The purse seiners are mainly after skipjack, which congregate under FADs, or fish aggregation devices, and the purse seiners scoop by the millions in enormous nets. The problem is that juvenile bigeye also congregate under the FADs, and they also get scooped up. The bigeye aren’t even really marketable for the purse seiners; they’re basically by-catch. “The purse seiners are supposed to be regulated by effort and FAD sets,” says Wespac’s Dalzell, “but the catch hasn’t come down. The annual reduction in FAD sets just hasn’t been effective.”

U.S. representatives at the recent meeting of the WCPFC in Cairns, Australia, hoped regulatory changes would shift more responsibility for the reduction in bigeye mortality to the purse seiners in the Western Pacific, but the results were disappointing, Dalzell says. “That’s because the U.S. longline fishery, which is the Hawaii fishery, is going to have to take a 10 percent cut over a four-year time period. For us, we see no conservation benefit from that. Other longline fisheries are also taking cuts, but the Japanese fishery’s cut, for example, is pretty much a paper cut. They’re cut from nearly 20,000 metric tons to about 17,000 metric tons; but their fishery only caught about 12,000 tons last year, so they’re figured as reductions even though they’re already fishing well below that level. Indonesia’s limit is three times its recorded average. And last year, Korea went well over its limit, whereas the U.S. has been assiduous in closing its fishery before it reaches its limits. So, the problem for bigeye won’t be solved until there are major reductions in the catch of juveniles in the purse seine fishery.”

Of course, down on Pier 38, none of these controversies change the natural rhythms of the fishing boats.

Gone fishing
Pete Grillo has been fishing in Hawaii for 12 years. He came to Hawaii from the fishery on the Northeast Coast where was captain of a dragger boat, but became disillusioned with fishery regulators there, and moved to Hawaii and joined the longline fleet, first as a deckhand, then as a captain and owner. He talks about the challenges facing the modern captain.

“It’s certainly different than the old days,” he says, “when a captain depended on a thermometer and dash of luck. Today, a captain needs to be a little more tech-savvy. It’s knowing how to read and interpret the satellite water data that we get. Also, having the capacity to pay attention to the details: am I catching enough every day to stay here? Am I seeing many fish in this area or that area? Would a small move benefit me or should I take a day off and travel to another spot. There’s a lot of decision-making and analyzing your daily statistics.”

But fishing is still a back-breaking profession. “As in any business,” Grillo says, “some people want to and will work harder that others. Other people don’t want to sacrifice sleep for production. Some of us will sacrifice just about all the sleep we can for more production. On my boat, a normal workday is 18 to 20 hours. It’s about six hours to set the gear and 12 or 13 hours to haul the gear. Some of the other boats might run a four-man crew on the deck; as a captain, I like to run a five- or a six-man crew, plus the captain. That way I can let guys rotate out and get some sleep while still keeping the operation going. That way, everybody will get their four or five hours off a day to sleep, but at different times of the day. Guys will rotate in and out and get naps, kind of like they’re doing the swing-shift. But operations are running 18 to 20 hours a day.”

But in the end, it pays for a fisherman to remember that sea is always in command. Grillo describes a fishing trip from four or five years ago:

“We were way out beyond the Northwest Island chain, about 800 miles above the Leeward Islands. There was a big storm coming through, but we were on some really good fish, catching 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of fish a day—nice, beautiful quality fish. At the time, there were maybe 25-foot to 30-foot seas— maybe for a couple days, 30-foot-plus—and it was blowing 50 knots to 60 knots for well over a week. A lot of the guys out there were just drifting, chugging into the weather. Me, coming from the Northeast, I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad. After all, it’s still 70 degrees out here.’ So, we just kept fishing. But one night, in the height of the storm, it had been blowing 60 knots plus all day and all night, and we were hauling gear back up, coming up into the weather, when we took a really big wave over the side of the boat. I was in bed at the time and it knocked me out of my bunk. I got back up and looked out and the guys were still hauling the gear, everybody was safe, everything was still intact, the boat was still moving ahead, so I went back to sleep. The next morning, I let the guys get off the deck and have a little breakfast before we got back to setting our gear again, and I went up on the bow to look for birds or fish in the water, and saw the port bow rail was bent in about foot or so.”
“It’s amazing what the ocean can do to your boat, even the biggest of boats.”

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My story on Mars analogs is up at Smithsonian Air & Space magazine.

Check it out: http://www.airspacemag.com/space/mars-fakers-180964343/

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How to Build a High-End High-Rise

A Step-by-Step Guide

September, 2016

So, you want to build a high rise. Maybe you’ve got a couple hundred million dollars burning a hole in your pocket and an acre or two of vacant land in Kakaako, and you’re wondering: How can I get in on the action? Right now, a half-dozen high rises are going up around town, and another handful getting ready to break ground. So, just in case you were thinking of adding your own giant condominium tower to the Honolulu skyline, we’ve made it easier for you by putting together this step-by-step guide.


The obvious approach would have been to follow the construction of a single high rise from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the typical high rise takes almost three years to build, and that’s not counting the many years it usually takes for permitting or design. But we didn’t want you to have to wait that long.

It turns out that, as part of its Ward Village development, the Howard Hughes Corp. has three high rises going up right now, all within a couple of blocks of one another, and all in different stages of construction.  Waiea is almost complete; Anaha still has about six months to go; and Aeo is just coming out of the ground. That gave us a convenient way to telescope the process of high rise construction, dividing it into three stages. Along the way, we focus on parts of the construction that highlight just how much you’re going to have to depend on distant, often unseen partners to build your high rise.


STEP 1
COMING OUT OF THE GROUND

Before you start to build, you have to prepare the site. If you’re lucky, you start with bare dirt. More likely, you’ve got old structures to demolish, and pavement or old concrete slabs to remove. Even then, you’re probably not done. Much of Kakaako was built on low marshland. Aeo’s property, for example, was only a few feet above the water table. To gain a little elevation, the general contractor, Layton Construction, trucked in thousands of tons of gravel fill, then spent weeks compacting the ground so it would bear the enormous weight of the building. That also makes it possible for the backhoes to trench so you can bring in utilities from the street.

In a sense, though, construction starts with a soil scientist boring test holes in the ground. This is crucial, because your skyscraper is going to perch atop scores of narrow concrete piles that reach as far as 90 feet below the surface. These are augur-cast pi-lings, meaning they’re drilled into the ground with a powerful augur, then, the resulting holes pumped with concrete as the augur is removed. While the concrete is still wet, a cage made of reinforced steel bars – rebar – is lowered into the hole. Once the concrete cures, you’ve got a piling.

It’s the friction of the earth against the rough surface of these pilings that actually holds your skyscraper in place. That’s why you need so many. It’s also why the soil engineer is crucial. By studying the soil beneath the building, she calculates how much friction it will generate. That determines how deep you have to bore the holes for your piles. In some places, it might be 60 feet; in others, nearly 100 feet.

The deeper you have to dig, the more time it takes and the more concrete and steel you have to use. That all costs more money.

Once the pilings are in, they’re tied together by pile caps and grade beams. “Grade beams” is a misnomer, because they eventually lie below grade. Trenches are dug to expose the tops of the pilings, then lined with plywood or steel formwork, and filled with concrete and rebar. When the concrete sets, the formwork is removed and the trenches backfilled with gravel and dirt.

Pile caps are similar, but they tie together pilings that have been clustered to support major load-bearing features, like the elevator shaft or structural columns. Once the grade beams and pile caps are in place, the slab can be poured to tie the whole structure together.

Congratulations, your high rise has come out of the ground.

Left: Much of Kakaako is close to sea level. At high tide, the areas excavated for pile caps and grade beams can fill with salt water. Right, top to bottom: 1. Trenching reveals how much fill is used. 2. Clusters of piles exposed for pile cap. 3. Exposed rebar, ready for the next course of forms and concrete. 4. Building a high rise starts with digging.

Left: Much of Kakaako is close to sea level. At high tide, the areas excavated for pile caps and grade beams can fill with salt water. Right, top to bottom: 1. Trenching reveals how much fill is used. 2. Clusters of piles exposed for pile cap. 3. Exposed rebar, ready for the next course of forms and concrete. 4. Building a high rise starts with digging.

 

STEP 2
GOING UP

The articulating boom that delivers concrete to the top of the building is directed by remote control.

The articulating boom that delivers concrete to the top of the building is directed by remote control.

Congratulations, your high rise has come out of the ground. Thus begins the rhythm of construction. Floor after floor, formwork is built over the stubs of walls and structural columns. Rebar cages are fabricated and lowered into place. Utilities are led through conduits and ductwork. Then comes the slurry of concrete. The floors are poured, and the formwork filled, and the walls gradually rise, always with a toothsome row of rebar jutting out the top, ready to accommodate the next course of formwork and concrete. In fact, this is where it becomes clear that, although your high rise may ultimately look like it’s made of glass and steel, at heart, it’s a colossus of reinforced concrete.

1. Hoppers of extra concrete are hoisted by crane. 2. The concrete pump boom swivels on a tower of its own. 3. Until the new concrete has cured, the floor is supported by a forest of jackstands.

1. Hoppers of extra concrete are hoisted by crane.
2. The concrete pump boom swivels on a tower of its own.
3. Until the new concrete has cured, the floor is supported by a forest of jackstands.

One striking feature  to most modern high rises is the  engineering in the floors. They may look like simple slabs, but technology has evolved to make them thinner so you need less concrete and can have more headroom and more floor space to sell. You’re going to use the same method to strengthen your floors that they do at Anaha: post-tensioning.

Concrete is heavy and, when you pour a big slab, it tends to sag in the middle. This creates tension in the concrete and, while concrete is very good at handling pressure, it doesn’t take tension well. (That’s why concrete is always reinforced with steel.) To correct for sagging, hundreds of powerful cables are run through conduits in the floor and the concrete is poured over them. When the concrete is hard enough, jacks are used to pull the cables tight and the ends are secured to the edges of the floor. The effect is like a trampoline, with the post tensioning putting the concrete into compression instead of tension. In the old days, it used to take 14 days for the concrete to get hard enough. With modern concrete, the floors are ready in two to three days, greatly accelerating construction.

One key feature of high rise construction is the ability to pump concrete to the upper floors. That requires a massive pump and a giant, articulating boom to deliver the concrete to every point on the floor. The pump can stay on the ground, but the boom is attached to the pump by a large- gauge pipe that runs up the inside of what will eventually be the elevator shaft. That’s because the boom has to climb to keep up with construction. To accommodate that upward movement, it’s mounted on top of a self-climbing platform that also fits inside the elevator shaft. It’s a massive machine – 40 feet long, 12 feet wide and three stories tall – that uses hydraulics to hoist itself up tracks that are temporarily bolted to the walls of the elevator shaft. The construction crew often fit out the lower levels of this contraption with a microwave and bathrooms, using it like a temporary lunchroom, says Larry Schrenk, the director of construction in Hawaii for Howard Hughes. “On really big skyscrapers, they actually put in a Subway sandwich shop so the crew never has to come down.”

When the last floor is poured, the platform is disassembled and lowered to the ground by the crane.

STEP 3
FINISHING UP

The roof of Anaha’s garage doubles as the amenities deck and is completely waterproofed. It will eventually house the members’ club house as well as a pool and other waterworks. One end of the pool will be glass and hang out over the property.

The roof of Anaha’s garage doubles as the amenities deck and is completely waterproofed. It will eventually house the members’ club house as well as a pool and other waterworks. One end of the pool will be glass and hang out over the property.

So, your high rise has topped off.

The last floor (which is actually the roof) has been poured. The windows are all in. Now, it’s time to make the space livable. In some ways, this is the part of the process that most resembles the building of single-family homes.

To frame the interior walls, steel studs are bolted to brackets that have been attached to the ceilings and floors. Plumbers and electricians rough in the utilities. Then come the armies of drywall workers. The sheetrock is screwed to the studs. It’s mudded and sanded several times, then primed and painted. The ductwork is connected to the HVAC system. The hardwood floors are installed and the tile-work finished. Carpenters come to hang the cabinets in the kitchen so the appliances can be fitted into place and hooked up. It’s all very familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a house being built.

But there are still differences. For example, some of the penthouses at Waiea have a private swimming pool on the lanai. That calls for pool masons and specialty plumbing. Another example is the floor. Despite intensive efforts by the contractors to get the concrete even when they pour the floors, they’re rarely level. “You can’t imagine how it snowballs if you have a floor that’s even just an inch out of level,” says Howard Hughes’ Larry Schenk. “You’d be able to see that in each room. The lines where the walls or cabinets meet the floors would go up and down.”

Top: Many wires are routed through ducts concreted into the floor. Middle: Additional concrete is frequently needed to level the floors. Bottom: High-end buildings require high-end cabinetry and amenities.

Top: Many wires are routed through ducts concreted into the floor.
Middle: Additional concrete is frequently needed to level the floors. Bottom: High-end buildings require high-end cabinetry and amenities.

That’s not acceptable, particularly if you’re building a high-end condo like Waiea. To remedy this problem, once the walls are in, gangs come through and fill the low spots with an easy flowing layer of mortar. The high spots get chiseled away. This takes place all over the building, because you can’t install the hardwood or the tile until the floors are absolutely level. “We literally spend millions of dollars just getting things back to flat,” Schenk says.

Sometimes there are special considerations. Howard Hughes wants Ward Village to be the largest LEED certified community in the country. That imposes restrictions on the construction process. For instance, the ductwork and blowers for the air-conditioning system are put in fairly early in the finishing process, but they all have to be sealed in plastic. If the ducts and gratings were left exposed, they would likely be filled with dust during the drywall installation. But your AC system will have to be dust-free if you want LEED status. So the plastic can’t come off the ductwork until the construction is almost done.

The buyers of an expensive condominium unit often customize their finishings. Model units give them some design options and show the view.

The buyers of an expensive condominium unit often customize their finishings. Model units give them some design options and show the view.

One other thing: If you’re building a luxury high rise, like Waiea or Anaha, your buyers will often want custom finishes. That means you’ll be working with boutique suppliers and will need a way to track and store the products they send you. In other words, you’re looking at coordinating with more supply chains. And you’ve got to make sure the right products end up in the right units. To ensure that happens, every unit has its own “bible” hanging on the door. This folder can run to several pages and lists specifications for all the finishes in that unit.

HB-09-16-High-Rise_12When you build your own high rise, you also have a “bible,” albeit a figurative one. It contains the building plans and architectural drawings; the spec sheets and supply lists; and the schedules, with their critical path analyses and Gantt charts. Nowadays, all this information is digital, credited in programs like AutoCad or Revit. If you were to print them all up, though, they would come to thousands and thousands of pages. Sadly, there’s no shorter way to explain how to build a high rise. So we’d like to close our little guidebook with an admonition you often see on products: “Some assembly required.”

Please see instructions before you begin.


UNDERSTANDING THE SUPPLY CHAIN

The Concrete World

Your concrete is part of a vast, international industry.

HB-09-16-High-Rise_2By volume, it’s the most traded man-made substance on Earth, yet it has a deceptively simple composition: gravel, sand and cement. The gravel and sand provide the strength; the cement binds them. Cement production involves baking a mixture of crushed limestone and clay at 1450˚C to produce quicklime, which is mixed with a few other ingredients to create a hard substance called clinker. The clinker is then blended with a small amount of gypsum and ground to a find powder: the famous Portland cement.

Although Hawaiian Cement is one of a handful of local companies that mix and sell concrete, it’s the only source of cement in the Islands. All its cement is from Asia Cement. This massive Taiwanese conglomerate delivers as many as 10 shiploads a year to the deep water port at Kalaeloa. Last year, that came to $23 million of cement.

HB-09-16-High-Rise_3Hawaiian Cement has a pretty sophisticated system to handle all that cement. When it’s unloading a bulk carrier, the fine powder is moved pneumatically, sucked like a fluid from the hold of the ship and pumped into a pair of, hemispheric storage tanks that tower over the docks.

From there, a computerized overhead pneumatic system allows the company’s drivers to load the trucks themselves. In boom times, as many as 90 trucks a day pass through the Kalaeloa facility.

Of course, by weight, concrete is mostly aggregate – gravel and sand.

Hawaii, despite its famous beaches, has a shortage of sand. Hawaiian Cement has to import that from British Columbia, where’s it’s quarried from ancient dunes beneath the spruce and fir forests. About three times a year, a bulk carrier brings in about 40,000 metric tons of sand; so much that it takes 50 trucks five days to cart all of it from Kalaeloa to the Halawa facility.

In lesser quantities, Hawaiian Cement imports other ingredients. Certain chemicals can be added to concrete to make it flow better, or cure faster or slower. Some federal contracts require the use of fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal, as a substitute for some of the cement in concrete. All of these products are made elsewhere, adding to the layers of people involved in building your high rise.

The only local ingredient in your concrete will be the gravel. At its Halawa facility, Hawaiian Cement quarries, crushes, and grades millions of tons of gravel a year. Since the aggregate is what gives concrete most of its strength, this local basalt is what ultimately holds your high rise up. And, in an industry that’s famously dirty (worldwide, cement production accounts for 7 percent of human-produced greenhouse gases), Hawaiian Cement runs a surprisingly green operation. Concrete, for example, is water intensive – both for mixing and for dust suppression – but Hawaiian Cement recycles non-potable irrigation water from a nearby farm. They also scrupulously monitor Halawa Stream to make sure runoff from the gravel yard doesn’t alter the pH of the water. They even accept old concrete, crushing it to recycle the aggregate.

Concrete has to be tested. It takes as much as 50,000 cubic yards of concrete to make a high rise. That means mixing thousands of batches of concrete. Because of subtle irregularities in the cement, no two batches are necessarily alike. But your concrete has to meet strict engineering standards. It’s particularly important that the concrete harden quickly to keep construction on schedule.

HB-09-16-High-Rise_4That requires testing, says Gavin Shiraki, sales manager for Hawaiian Cement’s Concrete and Aggregate Division. “The contractor has a third-party lab that checks the concrete on a daily basis,” Shiraki says. Hawaiian Cement conducts similar tests. For every batch of concrete, several samples are taken and formed into four-inch cylinders. Then, at intervals, those cylinders are crushed in a powerful press to measure their strength. Only when the concrete reaches its prescribed hardness can you remove the forms and jack stands and move on to the next floor. Before you complete your high rise, thousands of these little concrete cylinders will be crushed.

 

It Looks Like It’s All Glass

The dominant feature of a high rise is frequently its glass facade.

In fact, with a curtain wall, sometimes that’s all you can see. Not surprisingly, that makes glass one of the project’s larger budget items. “The glass contract for Anaha is about $30 million. That’s over 10 percent of the total cost of construction,” says Larry Schenk.

So, if you want to understand why building a high rise is so expensive and complicated, the glass is a good place to start.

When you build a single-family home, most of the key elements are available at your local hardware store. In fact, the house was probably designed around the specs of standard windows, doors and hardware. That’s not the case when you’re building a high rise. Each high rise is unique and everything is made to fit. Especially the glass. As Schenk points out, “None of the exterior glass of Anaha is off-the-shelf. It’s all custom.”

All that customization means that, to build your high rise, you have to deal with an elaborate, highly specialized supply chain.

First of all, the technical name for modern plate glass or window glass is “float glass.” The term refers to the manufacturing process. For most of the 20th century, plate glass was made by flattening a blob of molten silica sand and a few other ingredients between a pair of steel rollers. This technique was cheap and yielded a relatively smooth surface, but the resulting panes of glass still had to be polished on both sides to be truly transparent. This was time-consuming and expensive. Then, in the late 1950s, an Englishman named Alastair Pilkington devised a quicker, cheaper approach. Instead of using metal rollers, the molten glass was poured evenly onto a bath of molten tin, where, because of the two materials’ difference in density, it floated like oil on water. Because the glass spread evenly over the tin bath, it was perfectly smooth on both sides. The thickness could be controlled by modulating how quickly the molten glass was poured onto the tin, and how long it took to cool.

Acccording to Dennis Jean, the senior project manager for AGA, the glass contractor for Anaha, the float glass for the building is manufactured by a California company called Guardian Glass at its Kingsburg plant. Guardian adds a tinted reflective coating to the raw glass to make it more energy efficient. Sometimes, it also adds spandrels to make it opaque. Then, they ship the glass to the next company in the supply chain: Northwestern Industries in Yuma, Arizona.

At NWI, the glass is cut to size and fabricated into individual window units. Each unit is composed of two panes of quarter-inch glass, with a half inch of space between them, and enclosed around the edges with a polymer seal. Sometimes, argon gas is injected into the space for additional insulation. These finished units are then trucked to AGA’s plant in Livermore, California, where they’re fitted into custom-made aluminum frames, packed into custom crates called “bunks,” and shipped in containers to Hawaii.

That’s the easy part.

A key design feature of Anaha is the curved glass at all four corners of each floor. If your skyscraper is going to use curved glass, that adds another step to the supply chain. Instead of Yuma, the raw glass is shipped from the Guardian factory to Standard Bent Glass, a specialty glass fabricator in Pittsburgh. There, each pane is heated until it’s plastic enough to bend over special forms. Only after the glass conforms to the proper radius can they fabricate the individual, double-paned units. Those are then installed in their custom aluminum frames, crated and shipped to Honolulu.

Getting the glass here is only half the job. It still has to be installed. On site, AGA’s local glaziers are responsible for the custom-made mounting brackets and molding that hold the windows in place. They also install each window. For curtain walls – the kind where the entire surface of the building is glass – they bolt the windows to aluminum brackets that were embedded in the edge of each floor when the concrete was poured. In this system, the weight of the glass is carried entirely by the brackets. For “window glass,” the weight of the glass rests on top of the floor or a wall; the brackets merely hold it in place.

The whole contraption is fabulously complex. “For Anaha,” Jean says, “each glass panel has 147 different parts: brackets, bolts, screws, glass, etc.” Maybe more to the point, almost every one of those 5,000-plus panels is unique.

Onyx Has Its Own Specialists

If you want to build a high-end skyscraper, you  have to include high-end finishes.

HB-09-16-High-Rise_14Each of those has its own supply chain, often with tentacles that reach around the globe. For example, the designers at Waiea wanted to use book-matched slabs of pink onyx to line the walls of the showers in several penthouse units. It turns out, though, there aren’t many sources for pink onyx. The giant slabs in Waiea came from an old, family-run quarry in Iran. But the trip from the mountains of Persia to Kakaako is circuitous. Bruce Kumove, whose company, BMK Construction, is responsible for the onyx, walks us through the process.

It starts with a man named Raoul Luciano, a Swiss stone expert who acts as a sort of third-party inspector and quality-control consultant. “This guy is the best,” Kumove says. “He did the stone at the new World Trade Center in New York and the stone for the Getty Museum. He’s been in the business for 35 years and has offices in London, New York, Los Angeles and Houston. This is all he does.”

Luciano’s main job was to make sure Waiea got onyx that would work for book-matching. That means taking a thick slab and slicing it into two thinner slabs, then opening them, like a book, so that the vein patterns in the onyx radiate symmetrically from the centerline. Onyx is quarried in giant blocks – in this case, with nine-foot faces – so it’s hard to assess the color on the inside. “Luciano hand-picked which blocks to use so they would mirror properly,” Kumove says.

Although the Iranian quarry had the best pink onyx, it wasn’t able to finish the stone to the standards Waiea required. “Once Luciano selected the blocks,” Kumove says, “they were put on 40-foot semi-trailers. They were so large that, if you were lucky, you could get three blocks to a trailer.” Then, the blocks were trucked through Turkey and Eastern Europe to Italy. It took six months to get the stone from the quarry in Iran to Italy.

Processing the marble took another eight months. The big blocks were cut into slabs using a gang-saw. This is a gigantic industrial device with a rack of evenly spaced saw blades at the top and a hydraulic lift at the bottom. It works by setting the onyx on the lift and hoisting it inexorably through the scything rack of saw blades, cutting the stone as clean as sliced bread. Then the slabs are carefully numbered so that adjacent slabs can be used for book-matching.

Cutting onyx is slow, but it’s not the only time-consuming process, Kumove says. “Onyx is a very unstable and brittle material. It cracks very easily because it’s full of cavities. So, once they cut the book-matched slabs, they have to fill the cavities with epoxy and polish it. They also apply a layer of epoxy and mesh to the backs of the slabs. That’s why onyx is such an expensive stone: it’s so difficult to work with. There’s also a lot of wastage. You might get 20 slabs out of a block, but 50 percent might be waste. And it takes a lot of time for all this to happen.”

Even after the onyx is crated and shipped, the international nature of the stone industry doesn’t end. “There aren’t a lot of people that understand how to deal with book-matched onyx,” Kumove says. “It takes experienced marble masons. To make sure the job is done right, we have a special crew that we built especially to handle these slabs. Most of them are Ukrainian.”


CHOREOGRAPHING THE WORKERS

Building a high rise calls for a lot of coordination between workers. Clockwise from top: 1. Concrete worker signals the boom operator. 2.The temporary elevator requires an operator. 3. Boom operator supervises concrete pour. 4. Metal formwork gives the concrete its final shape.

Building a high rise calls for a lot of coordination between workers. Clockwise from top: 1. Concrete worker signals the boom operator. 2.The temporary elevator requires an operator. 3. Boom operator supervises concrete pour. 4. Metal formwork gives the concrete its final shape.

The job of your general contractor is to organize all the different construction activities. Every subcontractor needs space and time for staging and loading. They need to be able to work without interference from other subcontractors. They have to be able to get supplies when and where they need them, so they need some of that scarce crane time.

And it’s not just the subs that need coordinating. As the contractor, you’ve got to deal with moving utilities, traffic stoppages and temporary structures to protect pedestrians. You’ve also got to respect the needs of your neighbors, some of whom may also be tenants.

For example, to make sure Pier 1’s and Nordstrom Rack’s stores would still be able to access their loading dock, Howard Hughes designed Anaha so the bottom level had enough vertical clearance for a semi-trailer to pull in under the building and do a three-point turn.

As each newly poured floor cures, work surges forward on the floors below. Each floor is divided into distinct areas, and crews rotate through them to do their work in the proper order. A gang comes through to mark the profiles of the non-load-bearing walls and permanent furnishings on the floors. Other gangs rough in the plumbing and electric. Still another gang comes through to install the windows. And all of this work reaches a crescendo after the glass goes in. Once the floor is weather proof, the finishing can begin.

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Trump’s Effect on Hawaii

The state’s congressional delegation lays out five risks, two opportunities and five strategies for Hawaii in the Trump era.

April, 2017

Interviewed for this story are the four members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, all Democrats:

Sen. Mazie Hirono
Sen. Brian Schatz
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard


FIVE RISKS

1 OBAMACARE

(The repeal of Obamacare would) have an impact on everybody on Medicare in Hawaii," says Sen. Mazie Hirono.

(The repeal of Obamacare would) have an impact on everybody on Medicare in Hawaii,” says Sen. Mazie Hirono.

One of the biggest changes proposed by President Trump is a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, with no specific replacement yet agreed upon. An estimated 20 million people nationwide receive health insurance through the ACA. In Hawaii, the potential loss of the ACA is mitigated by the state’s long-existing Prepaid Health Care Act, which had already provided health insurance to many of the categories of people covered by Obamacare elsewhere in the nation.

“In general, Hawaii and Massachusetts have been the two states that had the most difficulty complying with the exchange requirements of the ACA,” Hanabusa says. “That’s because we already had what I consider to be the best health care systems in the country.”

Those systems will largely remain in place if Obamacare is repealed, but many of those who keep their overall coverage will still lose some benefits. “It’s going to have a huge impact on everybody on Medicare in Hawaii,” Hirono says. “They will end up paying more for prescription drugs, for example. And they won’t get the kind of preventive care they get under ACA, even though a lot of them don’t realize that yet.”

Similarly, people who are self-employed or between jobs will either lose their coverage, or at least the subsidies that make their coverage affordable. Obamacare requires health insurance companies to cover people with existing medical conditions; many Republicans say they will continue that provision, but no longer require people to have health insurance coverage or pay a penalty. That requirement helped subsidize the premiums of less healthy people; without those subsidies, it’s likely that health insurance premiums will skyrocket.

2 IMMIGRATION

Hirono notes that Trump’s anti-immigration policies will be another risk for Hawaii, especially given his choice of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

“Sen. Session’s position on immigration is very clear,” she says. “When I first got elected to the Senate, Democrats were in the majority. Since the majority members preside, I took many turns presiding over the Senate. Sen. Sessions would come down to the floor of the Senate on a regular basis to express his opposition to any kind of comprehensive immigration reform.”

That opposition was in the context of one senator among a hundred. As attorney general, Hirono says, Sessions will wield wide prosecutorial discretion. For instance, he could help decide what happens to the young people in the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That program allows some undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of protection from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.

“At his confirmation hearings, when he was asked if he would start deporting the DACA people, he wouldn’t say he wouldn’t,” Hirono says. “We have about 300 DACA people in Hawaii. And there are many more undocumented aliens not in DACA; they won’t come out of the shadows for fear of providing information that could be used against them in some way.”

Hirono is relatively confident that people who enrolled in DACA are safe for now. “I think there would be such a hue and cry if the DACA participants were targeted for deportation, because part of what they were told was that their information would not be used for those purposes – although there was always a caveat that could change.”
Noting she’s an immigrant herself – the only immigrant in the Senate – Hirono says, “I will do everything I can to make sure they’re not among those who are deported, just because they participated in DACA. Remember, DACA allows these young people to go to school, join the military, participate in the life of our communities in a way that brings them out of the shadows.”

3 ENVIRONMENT

Hanabusa, who sits on the Natural Resources Committee in the House, says one of the most important issues for Hawaii is how Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress approach key environmental issues, such as the Endangered Species Act. “For example,” she says, “there have long been attempts by the Republicans to, in effect, limit the number of endangered species, not allowing new species to be added to the list.”

Hawaii is the extinction capital of the world, and the Endangered Species Act has been a key tool in protecting some of the state’s most fragile habitats. Diluting the ESA, or limiting enforcement of its provisions, could affect everything from military training protocols to land-use practices in the state.

There’s also climate change. As a tropical island chain, Hawaii is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change: rising sea level; the loss of coral reefs due to ocean acidification and warming sea surface temperatures; the increasing frequency and intensity of major storms; and the gradual loss of unique ecosystems. But Trump and many in the Republican majority are climate-change skeptics and support domestic oil extraction, fracking and the resuscitation of coal mining. All of these accelerate climate change. That’s why Trump’s nomination and the confirmation of Scott Pruitt – a climate-change denier and advocate of the oil, gas and coal industries – to head the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have the most effect on Hawaii.

4 RUSSIA

All these issues – Obamacare, immigration and environmental policy – have long been part of the basic divide between Republicans and Democrats. But Hanabusa says the Trump victory has introduced new risks, though their specific impact on Hawaii may be more attenuated.

“One area that I feel will be a problem,” she says, “is the whole issue of the security briefings that we’ve received about the role of Russia in our election. It has nothing to do, necessarily, with this particular administration’s beliefs about Russia; it has to do with finding out exactly what happened. To have the three major intelligence agencies agreeing (that the Russians interfered in the election) I think is a major statement. So, I see lines drawn on this specific issue, but I don’t necessarily see it as Democrat versus Republican, because you hear Republicans, like John McCain, who feel there really needs to be an investigation of the actions taken by the Russians.”

Hanabusa, like all members of the House, has seen the classified version of the report on Russian meddling in the election. She say’s she’s confident in the conclusions drawn by the intelligence agencies.

“I think they were very careful, perhaps even too conservative in their conclusions. Maybe that’s a better way of putting it. I think that they could probably have gotten further than they did. But, that notwithstanding, there’s still the fact that they’re not finished with their investigation.”

5 UNKNOWNS

"We remain well situated to attract further Department of Defense investment." -Sen. Brian Shatz

“We remain well situated to attract further Department of Defense investment.” -Sen. Brian Shatz

Russia is a known risk, Hanabusa says, but it’s the unknown risks that are more worrying.

“I think the real issue for Hawaii is that we don’t know what a Trump administration is going to look like,” she says. “The concern I have is the fact that Trump got elected in such an unconventional manner. He wasn’t elected by the party; he’s an outsider. You don’t even know whether or not he’s interested in re-election. And it’s the desire for re-election that tempers what his next step will be.”

Trump isn’t the only source of worry, Hanabusa says. She points out that Republicans in Congress have also introduced some new and novel risks, though their exact impact isn’t clear yet. She gives the example of the Holman Rule, a procedure that allows any member of Congress to use the budget process to reach down to any individual in the federal government and cut their salaries. First enacted in 1876, before the advent of merit-based employment in the federal government, the Holman Rule was rescinded by Democrats in 1982. This year, though, reviving the rule was one of the first affirmative acts of the Republican-controlled House.

To federal employees, the return of the Holman Rule looks like a scary attempt to undermine the independence of the civil service – especially combined with early moves by the Trump administration to identify federal employees who disagree with administration policies. In a heavily Democratic state, like Hawaii, there are undoubtedly a lot of federal employees who would fit that category.

“People may not take the rules of the House seriously,” Hanabusa says, “but they have major implications. The Holman Rule is one component of that. There are also components regarding subpoenas. All this gives you an idea where they’re headed. But, when they implemented the Holman Rule, you have to wonder, How do they want to use this? What do they think they can do with it?”

TWO OPPORTUNITIES

1 MILITARY SPENDING

Increased military spending in Hawaii largely depends on whether the new administration sustains Obama’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region. This plan reflects the growing importance of the region and shifts military resources so that, for example, 60 percent of the country’s naval fleet would be based in the Pacific. After all, the Pacific Command, based at Oahu’s Camp Smith, is responsible for 55 percent of the Earth and includes the world’s three largest economies: the U.S., China and Japan. Trump hasn’t said much specifically about the pivot – either on the campaign trail or as president – but he has advocated for a major increase in military spending. That bodes well for Hawaii, which depends heavily on military spending to balance the ups and downs of the tourism industry.
In some ways, the Asia-Pacific pivot and the potential increase in military spending in Hawaii predates and is independent of the Trump presidency, according to Schatz.

“There are some specific opportunities for Hawaii over the next four years that exist regardless of who’s the president,” Schatz says. “And we remain well situated to attract further Department of Defense investment.”
He points out that retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis and Rex Tillerson, the new secretaries of defense and state, both support the pivot, as do key members of Congress.

“My judgment is that Trump hasn’t thought very deeply about it, but that he will defer to his secretaries on this. And, at the legislative level, we now have a bipartisan consensus around Hawaii’s critical role. So, when it comes to the shipyard at Pearl Harbor, the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, the Pohakuloa Training Facility on the Big Island, the Jungle Operations Training Center at Schofield, all of the service branches are full speed ahead when it comes to defense investment.”

Gabbard, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, as is Hanabusa, notes there’s a similar consensus in the House. “I also see an interest and growing commitment in Congress to pass not only an authorization bill, but an appropriation bill in a timely fashion. One of the challenges for the private sector, as well as the military, is that when you have temporary continuing resolutions and temporary funding bills that only last for a month, or three months, or six months, that lack of certainty is quite harmful to our military capabilities. You can’t plan training activities, and it ultimately costs more in the long run. So, passing a funding bill where you know how much you have to spend for the year has been the No. 1 request from our military leaders in Hawaii.”

Although Trump hasn’t spoken much specifically about the pivot, he has said he wants to build more ships. That could bode well for Pearl Harbor, according to Hirono.

“ ‘Ships’ means ‘Navy’,” she says. “And the Navy’s presence in the Asia-Pacific is very much here in Hawaii.”
But Hirono expresses caution amid all the noise about increased military spending.

“There’s an issue as to how we’re going to pay for the over $350 billion increase in military spending over the next four years,” she says. “I certainly wouldn’t want to sacrifice the domestic programs that are so important. Not to mention that national security isn’t only dependent on what we do with the military; it’s also the appropriations and money that we give to the State Department, the FBI and Homeland Security. Those are all nonmilitary areas that are just as important for our national security. Then, there’s the state of our economy. If our economy is not flourishing, of course, that also affects our national security and our ability to do things for our country and our people. It’s all tied together.”

All the same, military spending looks like one area where Trump will prove to be an asset for Hawaii.

“Everybody knows I’m not a Donald Trump fan,” Schatz says, “but one thing I’ll say for him: He’s not a small-government guy. So, from the standpoint of being worried about a massive reduction in federal funding, that’s a little lower on the list than other risks, like geopolitical instability and unlawfulness.”

2 INFRASTRUCTURE

"The Armed Services Committee is the most partisan in the House." -Rep. Colleen Hanabusa

“The Armed Services Committee is the most partisan in the House.” -Rep. Colleen Hanabusa

Trump’s willingness to spend also bodes well for infrastructure investment in the state.

“Hawaii is not different from most other places,” Gabbard says. “The infrastructure needs we have across the state, in each of our counties, is great. This is the same challenge in many states in this country, and it’s an area where both Democrats and Republicans and this administration, I think, have an opportunity to work together and actually get an infrastructure bill passed. This would be good for Hawaii and for communities across the country.”

The question, of course, is: Why would the Republicans in Congress pass an infrastructure bill now when they steadfastly refused to increase infrastructure spending during the Obama administration? Maybe it’s because now Republicans are working with other Republicans, rather than across the aisle. Whatever the reason, Trump has created momentum in Congress to do something about infrastructure, Gabbard says.

“Republicans are talking about the need to pass an infrastructure bill, and the president has already begun to meet with different building-trade unions, as well as with Democrats and other Republicans to begin forming an idea of what an infrastructure bill would look like. Democrats in the Senate are putting forward their own ideas. So, on both sides, there’s interest and an appetite for working together and passing this legislation.”

It’s easy to overstate this consensus, though. Democrats, still stinging from the Republicans’ treatment of Obama, remain skeptical. Also, the two parties have widely divergent philosophies about how to pay for any infrastructure bill. Trump’s “plan,” for example, is largely funded through an 82 percent tax credit for private investment. In other words, investors would build roads, schools, airports and bridges largely on the taxpayers’ dime, and then own them and collect the tolls or rents. To Democrats, that looks like a government handout to wealthy investors. Democrats, on the other hand, want to pay for infrastructure through taxes, ideally on the rich; but the tightfisted Republicans in Congress have long balked at new taxes of any kind.

So, while everyone seems to want an infrastructure bill, it’s not clear there’s a plan they can all agree on. Gabbard remains optimistic.

“I think it’s premature to say there’s any one, specific plan that’s been put forward. There have been a lot of different ideas, and I think some have potential and others don’t. The point is that the conversation is happening, and that’s what’s necessary in order to end up with a final product. Hopefully, that will be able to pass Congress with bipartisan support.”

FIVE STRATEGIES

1 COMMITTEES

Broadly speaking, Hawaii’s congressional delegation agrees on the big issues in the Trump era. The real question is: How should they address those issues?

One thing working for them is that all four Hawaii members of Congress serve on committees that are strategically important for the state. In the House, both Gabbard and Hanabusa are on the Armed Services Committee. Hanabusa also serves on the Natural Resources Committee, and Gabbard is on the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Between them, the two congresswomen are well situated to participate in the debates that most affect Hawaii. The problem is that the House of Representatives is a purely majority-rule body. That means Democrats in the House have almost no power. To get anything done, they have to work with Republican allies. That’s easier on some committees than others. Given Hawaii’s reliance on military spending, it’s fortunate that Armed Forces is one of the easiest committees on which Democrats can find Republican allies.

“The Armed Services Committee is the most bipartisan in the House,” Hanabusa says. “So, if we’re able to share our concerns about how we address the Asia-Pacific, in terms of China and North Korea and those issues, if you can find a partner on the other side of the aisle who shares similar concerns, we can get a lot of things done.”

She points to her work on the National Defense Authorization Act with Randy Forbes, the former Republican congressman from Virginia. The NDAA, which funds the military, is the one piece of legislation that always passes the House in a bipartisan manner, she notes.

“When I was in Congress before, Randy Forbes and I had a series of meetings about, ‘What does the pivot to the Asia-Pacific mean?’ Working together on that issue, we were able to put what I consider to be necessary pieces of legislation in place through the NDAA, and we were able to address a lot of the Asia-Pacific questions. That was only because Congressman Forbes and I shared the same interests and concerns.”

Gabbard offers similar examples of partnering with Republicans on issues important to Hawaii.

“One is the Native Hawaiian Education Act,” she says. “This was a piece of legislation that Sen. Inouye and Sen. Akaka had championed when they were in the Senate. It required reauthorization, but it faced opposition from some Republicans and even potentially some Democrats. I was able to work in a bipartisan way with both Republicans and Democrats to be able to get this legislation included in a larger education bill that passed the House of Representatives. This wasn’t something that was necessarily easy to do, but by having a working relationship with my colleagues on both sides, treating them with respect and Aloha, this kind of collaboration resulting in passing legislation is possible.”

2 RULES

Collaboration isn’t the norm in the House. That’s because the Republican majority of 237 to 193 (with five vacancies) is large enough that the votes of Democrats, like Gabbard and Hanabusa, typically carry no practical weight. It’s also why House Democrats are sometimes forced to resort to political stunts, like their sit-in on the floor of the House over gun control last June.

Even in the Senate, where you need 60 votes to get some things done, Democrats are sometimes obliged to resort to symbolism – for example, boycotting confirmation hearings, even though Republicans would simply change the quorum rules and vote with no Democrats present. These tactics may not affect legislation, but they have meaning, according to Hirono.

“Majority rule is a lot more challenging,” she says. “So, in a place like the House, the voice of the loyal opposition becomes ever more important. That’s why, when they held the sit-in, it was an important symbolic action. And symbolism can go a long way. Look at the Women’s March, for example. You can call that symbolism if you want, but I think that, to the extent that all these millions of people marched all over the world, and that they continue their engagement, that will make all the difference.”

Senate rules make that chamber of Congress much more bipartisan than the House. Consequently, Hawaii’s senators are better positioned to block some of Trump’s proposals. Hirono serves on five committees, including the Armed Services Committee, where, as the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Seapower, she can be an important voice for Pearl Harbor and the shipyard. But it’s Schatz who’s probably best positioned to resist some of the more controversial proposals of the Trump administration and the Republican majority. As a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Schatz has real say on how Congress actually spends our tax dollars.

But, regardless of their committee seats, the members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation still have to make strategic decisions about how to deal with Trump and the Republican majority. This is a dilemma faced by every Democrat in Congress. Some believe Democrats should pick their battles and cooperate when Trump proposes things like increased infrastructure spending, or paid family leave – policies that have long been planks in the Democratic platform.

Others advocate full resistance. They say the party should do what the Republicans did to Obama: Oppose everything the Republicans and the Trump administration propose. Hawaii’s Congressional delegation isn’t that revolutionary and they look for opportunities to work with Republicans. According to Hanabusa, Russia is one area where Democrats can find enough Republicans who share their concerns about Trump.

“I think you’ll find Congress will come together on that,” she says. “It’s not just a matter of whether (Russian intervention) affected the victory of Donald Trump or the loss of Hillary Clinton; it transcends that. It’s about the integrity of our system and whether we’re going to allow a foreign power, or the leader of that country, to interfere with something as sacred to the people as our electoral system. I think that’s going to be a major surprise. I don’t thing they will stick to the party line. I think you’ll find both sides agree on that. I think you’ll also find the House Oversight Investigation Committee will hold meetings on that.”

3 SENATE

Any hopes for resistance to the Trump agenda likely rests in the Senate. Not long ago, that opposition would have centered around the confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet nominees. Hirono and Schatz voted against most of Trump Cabinet nominees, but all those who didn’t withdraw were confirmed despite Democratic opposition.

This highlights how the Senate’s vaunted 60-vote rule has diminished since the Democrats, under then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, changed the rule that required 60 votes to confirm presidential nominees. Now, except for Supreme Court nominees, approval only takes a simple majority. That’s what every Trump Cabinet nominee got, though Betty Devos needed a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. This raises questions about how Hawaii’s two senators will approach Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

“I will be spending a lot of time going forward on the Supreme Court nominee,” says Hirono, who sits on the Judiciary Committee. “That person could have a very pivotal impact on individual rights. For example, this court has, I think, tipped the scales in favor of corporations against individuals. I can cite a number of cases that exemplify this: Lilly Leadbetter, Hobby Lobby, Citizens United. Many of these were five-to-four decisions, so the next person on the Supreme Court could make the difference.”

At press time, a Supreme Court nominee still needs a super-majority of 60 votes to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. The question is whether the Democrats will be willing to use a filibuster to try to block Gorsuch (or any Trump nominee) from taking the bench. If they do, they risk Republicans invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” using the same procedure as Harry Reid to get rid of the filibuster for all executive nominations. Even given that risk, Hirono is unequivocal about her willingness to use the filibuster to protect issues important to her.

“If the nominee is someone that raises concerns regarding fairness, access of individuals to the courts, and things like that, I would do everything I could to raise those concerns. I really care about the potential of overturning Roe v. Wade.”

4 APPROPRIATIONS

"On both sides, there's interest and an appetite for working together on infrastructure." -Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

“On both sides, there’s interest and an appetite for working together on infrastructure.” -Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Regardless of what happens with the Gorsuch nomination, the Senate’s 60-vote rule still applies to legislation. That’s part of what makes Schatz’s role as a member of the Appropriations Committee so important. The House of Representatives may pass a budget on a simple majority vote, but Appropriations has to pass a bill that actually authorizes how that money is spent. Ending debate and bringing that bill to a vote will still require 60 votes.
Perhaps more important, Schatz says, the Appropriations Committee is one of the last bastions of bipartisanship in Congress.

“It takes a certain kind of senator to even want to be on that committee anymore, because there’s not a lot of fighting. There’s negotiating, but we try to hold each other and our priorities harmless from whatever battles are happening on the Senate floor or in the country. So, although I’m never overconfident, I’m reasonably certain that, when it comes to people like Thad Cochran and Pat Leahy, when it come to myself, as the top Democrat on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, this is about what’s in the country’s best interests and what’s in our own states’ best interests. It’s especially true that my being the ranking member on the Military Construction Subcommittee puts us in a better position to make sure that resources continue to flow into Hawaii. There’s never zero risk and, with Donald Trump as president, there are tremendous challenges ahead. But, when it comes to making sure that federal investment continues to come to Hawaii, the Appropriations Committee is where the rubber hits the road.”

Schatz’s optimism about the Appropriations Committee extends to its role in limiting Republican plans to gut Obamacare. The House can act alone to cut the program’s funding, using a procedure called reconciliation. But they can’t pass a new law without going through the Senate. “So, they can only ruin the current law,” Schatz says. “They can’t do any fixing without 60 votes, and without the participation of multiple committees: the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; the Finance Committee; and the Appropriations Committee. My judgment is that it is now more likely than not that the Republicans will either leave the Affordable Care Act alone, or make minor tweaks and call it something else.”

Schatz also thinks the political and economic realities of gutting Obamacare are causing many in the Republican majority to lose their nerve.

“I’ve learned, since 2016, that I’m not very good at predicting,” he says, “but I think it’s fair to say that they’re realizing the promises they’ve made on the Affordable Care Act just don’t add up in terms of the math. Just to take one part of this: They promised to provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions; they want to extend coverage to young people until they’re 26; and yet they want to eliminate the individual mandate. That will not work. We need a risk pool to be able to subsidize people who may require more expensive care.

“The Republicans didn’t have to worry about any of that as long as Barack Obama was president; they could pass all these irresponsible bills (confident he would veto them), But now it’s, ‘You break it, you bought it.’ They don’t have President Obama as a foil anymore, so if they muck with the health-care system and make it worse – and they’re certainly going to make it worse – they’re going to own that. They’re terrified of that prospect.”

5 ENVIRONMENTAL RISKS

Even on the environmental side, where Trump and the Republican majority are probably most at odds with the Democrats, Schatz is curiously optimistic. Although he and Hirono were both among the most ardent critics of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s controversial choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Schatz doesn’t believe the survival of the nation’s major environmental laws is at stake. More to the point, he’s confident the election of Trump doesn’t spell disaster for Hawaii’s delicate environment.

“On the Appropriations side,” he says, “we think that we have a pathway for dollars to continue to flow to Hawaii for environmental priorities. Of course, on the policy side, it’s fair to say we’re not hopeful about making progress on any new laws. But the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act – those all remain federal law. So, regardless of the pronouncements of the new administration, they are duty-bound to obey the law.”

Schatz’s argument can be extended to address how Democrats should deal with Trump’s propensity to ignore the truth: It’s OK to search for common ground with Republicans, but you have to stake out principles that are non-negotiable.

“There’s a tendency in this administration for the president to declare things to be true that he wishes to be true, and to try to short circuit the arduous process of making or changing public policy. While I understand we’re not going to make a ton of environmental progress under Trump, there’s no reason to accept that we’re going to backslide on the bedrock of environmental law in this country. That includes clean air, clean water and endangered species protection.”

Schatz pauses a moment for emphasis before adding, “That’s an area where I’m perfectly willing to engage and fight.”

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My latest in Smithsonian Air & Space

TMT: Big Glass and the Changing Focus of Astronomy

http://www.airspacemag.com/space/big-astronomy-how-built-180960364/

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Thanks Freakonomics

You can listen to Freakonomics radio’s delightful piece on the value of handwriting vs keyboarding (as well as yours truly opining about shorthand) on their latest podcast: http://freakonomics.com/podcast/who-needs-handwriting/

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Creating Corals that can Survive Climate Change

See my Washington Post story on Ruth Gates and her research on the assisted evolution of coral in the latest @PostHealthSci

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Solar Impulse

See my interview with Solar Impulse pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg in Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine.

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Twins: First Hawaiian and Bank of Hawaii Share More Differences Than Similarities

See story in Hawaii Business Magazine.

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Can Hawaii Feed Itself?

Richard Ha and I climb into the cab of his big pickup and drive up the mountain.

I’ve come to Hamakua Springs, Ha’s 600-acre farm in Pepeekeo on the Big Island, to help see the future of Hawaii agriculture. Ha is a resourceful and outspoken farmer, and I want to hear his views on the increasingly fashionable notion that Hawaii could grow most of its own food. The issue, known variously as food security, food sustainability and food sovereignty, hinges on a few key questions: Can the land and water once devoted to the big sugar and pineapple plantations now support diversified agriculture? What investments and resources are necessary to make Hawaii agriculture more efficient? Finally, can the state’s growing welter of small farmers – most with much smaller operations than Hamakua Springs – ever compete with cheap imports from the mainland and the world? With a few important caveats, Ha says he’s optimistic about the future, and he wants to show me why.

We drive slowly uphill, traversing the length of the farm. The truck rumbles past packing sheds and outbuildings, past dozens of greenhouses bursting with tomatoes, past neat rows of banana trees and fields of taro, and, higher up, past fallow fields thick with weeds. Finally, in the topmost corner of the farm, we stop near a grove of trees that runs along the edge of a gulch.

Here, a finger of Ha’s farm reaches out and touches the Waiaama River. This land, he says, was thrown in almost as an afterthought when he bought the property. The idea was to ensure he would always have access to water. Today, this trickle of water represents the future of the farm – not just for irrigation, but as the centerpiece of Ha’s evolving ambitions: hydroelectric power.

Running along the high bank of the gulch is an old concrete irrigation flume, a relic of the defunct Pepeekeo Plantation. A shallow stream chuckles down the flume before spilling into a new concrete diverter.
“I think the general term for this is a headworks,” Ha says.

He shows me how, as the water is shunted to the right, it riffles briefly over a fine grate. The grate allows some water to pass over it and sluice back into the Waiaama; the rest, now filtered of debris, falls through the grate into a 22-inch pipe. This buried pipeline is called the millrace. It runs more than a kilometer down the hill to a 20-foot container that houses Ha’s new hydro plant. There, the surging water powers a turbine-driven, 115-kilowatt Lincoln generator before tumbling out the spillway into an irrigation ditch.

Ha says this system, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and will likely take years to amortize, can generate nearly twice the 50 kilowatts the farm currently consumes. Although HELCO, the local power company, won’t buy his excess power, Ha isn’t worried. He plans to use the surplus to transform the way Hamakua Springs does business.

Driving Down the Cost of Energy
Like most farmers, Richard Ha understands how the high cost of energy in Hawaii hampers agriculture. Energy runs your trucks and tractors and, in many cases, the pumps that irrigate your fields or water your cows. Electricity keeps your processing plant humming, cools your chiller and powers your milking barn. Energy runs a farm like it runs any business.

Hawaii farmers are at a particular disadvantage because of the state’s reliance on petroleum – a dependence that their farming competitors on the mainland and around the world rarely share.

“More than 70 percent of Hawaii’s electricity is generated from oil,” Ha says. “On the mainland, it’s only 1 percent. That’s why we can’t compete with anything manufactured on the mainland when it has electricity costs embedded in it.” That’s why he invested in hydro and why he supports geothermal and other renewable energy sources.

“If we were able to figure out a way to get cheaper electricity, over time, we could get an advantage, and then we could start doing other things.”

Ha is still trying to figure out what those “other things” are for his farm. He envisions Hamakua Springs as an agricultural hub that provides space and services to other farmers, such as a certified kitchen, fertilizer manufacturing and a packing plant. All those become possible when energy is cheap, and all affect the price of food.

“In the final analysis,” Ha says, “it’s all about costs. The customers will go to where it’s cheapest. So if our electricity was cheaper, the people would buy the stuff made here.”

Raising Cattle in Hawaii or Shipping ’Em Out?
Energy poses a special problem for ranchers. Although more and more people are turning to grass-fed beef – for both health and ethical reasons – most Americans still prefer the marbled meat that comes from grain-finished beef. For the most part, that means a Hawaii rancher who wanted to sell beef here would either have to ship in feed for finishing or grow his own. Shipping grain isn’t economical – it takes seven pounds of grain to produce a single pound of beef – but growing your own is also impractical. It would require you to ship in fertilizer and pesticide, and it might require irrigation, another energy hog.

So, for the most part, Hawaii ranchers quit finishing their cows here in 1990, after the last feedlot closed on Oahu. “Most ranchers here are cow/calf operators now,” says Jason Van Tassell, livestock manager for Parker Ranch. In other words, they keep just enough cows – “stockers” – to breed a herd of calves to sell. “Hawaii’s great for that, because we have good grass here. The model has been: You have a calf, and when you wean the calf, it goes to the mainland, where it’s grown out and marketed. Then, all that beef gets shipped back for local consumers.”

Ranchers were surprised to find they actually made more money this way than finishing the cows themselves. At least for a while.

“That model worked for a couple of years,” Van Tassell says, “because the shipping costs were low. But, later, the shipping costs got more expensive. And, remember, it’s shipping two ways. It’s shipping the calf there, and then shipping the food product back.” Those costs cut into ranchers’ margins.

Not surprisingly, many of them now are looking at the trend toward grass-fed beef as an option. In fact, many ranches have always retained a few stockers for local finishing. But now, well-known operations, such as Kualoa Ranch and Kuahiwi Ranch, are actively marketing a grass-fed product. And last March, Parker Ranch, the largest ranch in the state, launched the Paniolo Cattle Co., a joint venture with the Ulupono Initiative, Pierre Omidyar’s impact-investing arm in Hawaii, to develop a statewide grass-fed beef industry. This is precisely the sort of partnership that will be necessary for local ranchers to meet a significant percentage of the state’s protein demand. But it won’t be easy.

Van Tassell points out that managing a herd for grass-fed beef is a different operation. “With a cow/calf operation, you take a cow and she can survive on pretty marginal land. She can raise a calf pretty efficiently. But when we take the calf from the cow, it becomes our job to make sure it has the right nutrition in its diet. The quality of forage has to improve in the stocker stage, which is between 450 pounds and 800 pounds. That’s when it needs to be on its very best forage. The plan of nutrition for that animal needs to be on a steady upward incline. We have to be allocating our resources to put the right animal on the right acreage at the right time. That’s really what we’re striving to do with Paniolo Cattle Co.”

Even in such operations, Hawaii is at a disadvantage with ranchers in temperate climates, Van Tassell says.
“On this island, we grow an abundance of grass. But we’re in a subtropical area, so the types of grasses that grow here are warm-season grasses. They have a high moisture content, and cattle aren’t as efficient on that type of grass.” The difference isn’t negligible. Range-fed beef in Hawaii gain about a pound a day. In temperate grasses on the mainland they would double that. At a mainland feedlot, they would gain nearly four pounds a day.

“One advantage we do have, though,” Van Tassell says, “is our grass grows 12 months out of the year. That makes it economical, from a business point of view, so we’re able to graze these cattle here.”

But Parker Ranch’s Paniolo Cattle Co. is still in its early stages. It has only about 1,400 stockers in the grass-fed beef program, out of the ranch’s herd of about 40,000 animals. If market demand materializes, the company plans to increase that to 4,000 head or so – still only 10 percent of the total operation.

To understand why ranchers are reluctant to go all in on grass finishing, look at the numbers. Jill Andrade-Mattos, president of Hawaii Big Island Beef, sketches those numbers out from the perspective of both a rancher and a processer.

“These weaners, they come in at 400 to 550 pounds,” she says. “Then, the rancher keeps them another six months and sends them off to the mainland. So, he makes $780 to $1000 per animal in just six months. But you’ve got to hold grass-finished animals for close to a year and a half before they’re ready to go to the processor.” When the rancher does the math, the numbers don’t add up.

Jason Moniz, a state veterinarian and owner of KK Ranch, tallies the figures for a hypothetical 700-pound steer at the current price of $1.65 a pound.

“They’re making $1,155 on a grass-finished animal, if they keep it another year and a half. But, in that time, you could have raised another calf and a half. So, you can take the $780 for a calf and multiply by two and a half. That’s $1,950.” In other words, the rancher loses almost $800 of potential income on one hypothetical 700-pound steer. It’s not hard to see why grass finishing remains a hard sell for most ranchers.
That’s not to say there isn’t some reason for optimism in the grass-fed beef industry. First, the demand, while still small as a percentage of the total market, is real. Whole Foods Market sometimes pays as much as $2.00 a pound, which is more than ranchers get for calves.

There are also promising developments for processors. For example, Hawaii Big Island Beef, which runs the Hawaii Beef Slaughterhouse, has worked with partners such as Ulupono and landlord Kamehameha Schools to improve the neighboring pastures using irrigation, fertilizer and new forms of forage. The idea is that ranchers can sell their weaners to the processor for finishing.
All that is critical for the state’s limited number of processors, most of which, like Hawaii Beef Slaughterhouse, are underused.

“I have fixed costs in the plant,” says Andrade-Mattos. “My refrigeration, my pumping and my well – those are all fixed costs, so, no matter what I do, those costs are there. In order to lower the cost per animal, I have to increase throughput. If I have that throughput, I can pass along more money to the ranchers.”

Technology Is Crucial to Sustainability
Closely tied to the energy challenge is the issue of technology. Most of the increases in productivity (and reductions in cost) in agriculture over the last century have been because of advancements in technology. That’s just as true in Hawaii as anywhere else.

John Cross, the land manager for Olson Trust and, before that, for the Big Five company C. Brewer, likes to chart the role technology has played here. “There’s no farmer on this earth that’s smarter at growing tropical crops than the Hawaiian farmer,” he says. “We have an agricultural college. We’re affluent. We know what we’re doing. We’re smart. We can take a crop from the 19th century and turn it into a 21st century crop within a couple of years. With the university and the Department of Agriculture and the tenacity and willpower of the Hawaiian agriculturalist, we are world leaders. The problem is that the rest of the world comes over here and copies us and takes that knowledge back to Taiwan or the Philippines or Thailand, and now we’re battling against our own knowledge being used against us in a Third-World country.”

He gives examples, such as phaelianopsis orchids, sugar cane and even macadamia nuts, for which Hawaii farmers developed the varieties of crops and methods of growing, only to be out-competed by copycat farmers in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, he says, technology is still our edge.
The problem is that today’s technology is often too capital intensive for Hawaii’s small farmers. It’s also often not efficient on a small scale.

Dean Okimoto, owner of Nalo Farms in Waimanalo, gives an example. “About seven years ago, I went to see the Dole Fresh processing facility in Salinas, Calif. The facility is 6 acres under roof. It has 24 wash lines, with each line producing 55 bags of greens a minute. So, how can small guys compete?”

A local example is Larry Jefts, who came to Hawaii from the mainland 40 years ago and brought some mainland economies of scale with him. With thousands of acres in production on multiple islands, his Sugarland Farms is probably the largest farm in Hawaii. Because of that scale, he can use technology like GPS-guided combines that would make no sense on the average 5-acre farm. That way, he’s able to drive down his costs and, for some crops, even compete with mainland producers on price.

But agricultural technology is about more than machinery, Jefts says. “Here, we find academics working on things important to us and we partner with them. We provide the infrastructure for their research trials, and we get to use the technology they develop.” That allows Jefts to introduce new crops or improved processes.
Jefts points to the Big Island Dairy on the Hamakua Coast as another example of capitalizing on technology. It’s another mainland company that made a big investment because it saw opportunity in Hawaii. It reportedly spent $14 million to buy the old Island Dairy and then added more investments. According to Jefts, it also built a big, modern milking barn. Each cow there has a chip implanted in its ear so sensors can track its productivity. That technology made the Hamakua operation plausible: The company realized Hawaii’s dairy cows were under-producing and thought it could do better.

Maybe you see a trend here: big mainland farmers using the advantages of technology and scale to make farming in Hawaii work. Jimmy Nakatani, executive director of the state’s Agribusiness Development Corp., gives another example: Stephen Pianowski, a mainland farmer who set up a bean operation on Kauai.
“The other farmers were skeptical,” Nakatani says. “The first question they asked him was: ‘Who’s going to pick your beans?’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry, I have machines to do that.’ ”

If Hawaii is really going to grow its agricultural base, Jefts says, it’s going to be because of people like himself – people with the capital to invest in technology and large-scale operations. “We’re not going to build that kind of agriculture with 800 small farmers,” he says. “It’s going to be commercial operations with state-of-the-art agriculture. This is not a popular position, but we have to be efficient at what we’re going to do or we’re not going to be competitive.”

Jason Van Tassell, from Parker Ranch, puts it another way: “When the general public thinks of sustainable farming, I think they see a guy out in a field hand-picking vegetables and hoeing weeds. But I think sustainability means using every bit of technology that’s out there, putting it to use to improve productivity. We’ve been around since 1845. That seems sustainable to me.”

Plenty of Land, But Not ENOUGH Farming Infrastructure
Of course, the issues of energy and technology are moot if we don’t have enough land and water to feed ourselves. But, first, what do we mean when we say “feed ourselves?” By some estimates, we import 90 percent of our food and export 80 percent of our agricultural production. How can we make a dent in those numbers?

“Step inside a Safeway and see what a supermarket really sells,” says Richard Ha. “Most of it is some sort of processed food. It’s dried or frozen, made or manufactured somewhere else. If you look at the produce department as a percentage of the entire store, it’s not very large.” Most of what’s in that supermarket will never be replaced by Hawaii products, even the basic food stuffs. No one expects that Hawaii farmers will ever produce the wheat, corn and rice that make up so much of our locally consumed calories. So, as Ha suggests, when we speak of “feeding ourselves,” what we really mean is fresh produce and a few value-added products. That’s a smaller nut to crack; we already produce relatively high percentages of the fruits and vegetables we consume here.

With that limitation, let’s ask the question again: Do we have enough land to feed ourselves? Most experts think so. Giorgio Caldarone, regional asset manager for Kamehameha Schools, the largest agricultural landholder in the state, says, “We’ve heard there’s more than enough land here to feed ourselves if we wanted to.”

Sydney Keliipuleole, operations director for the land assets division at Kamehameha, goes even further.
“I think we have enough acres just on Oahu,” he says. “People estimate it would take between 3,000 acres and 30,000 acres to do it. There’s all that state land in the central part of Oahu. If we were to replace all of that with commodity-level farms, we could get pretty close. Not including beef. Hawaii Island is the key to beef.”

The problem with much of the best land in the state, Caldarone says, isn’t quantity, it’s neglect.
“As the plantation era sort of came to a close, with the end of sugar and pineapple, large landscapes reverted back to the landowners in various states of disrepair. And, for those last 20 or 30 years, the writing was on the wall, so the plantations weren’t making investments in things like irrigation systems. By the time we got the properties back, a lot of the systems were in pretty bad shape,” says Caldarone.

Since then, Kamehameha has invested heavily in that infrastructure on Oahu. It has spent millions of dollars on the irrigation systems and roads for its properties on the North Shore and in Punaluu. It has also been investing in farmers, trying hard to identify and support people who can work all that land.
That’s not to say Kamehameha Schools is overconfident. Keliipuleole points out that a lot of the non-farm infrastructure necessary for food self-sufficiency is missing.

“That’s the processing, the value-added services, the delivery, the market connections.” All that infrastructure, he says, has to be in place before we can address the food-security question. On the whole, though, Kamehameha seems confident that its investment in agriculture will pay dividends.

Ulupono’s Kyle Datta is also confident. “Do we have enough land to feed ourselves? The answer is unequivocally ‘yes.’ Of the food we eat that is fresh food, outside of the grains and the oils that go with the grains, a significant portion can be locally grown at prices affordable to everybody.” But Datta adds a pair of provisos: “We have enough land and water to achieve that – if we use some best practices in terms of agricultural productivity, and if we honor and respect how land is zoned.”

Ulupono is focused on both those caveats. On the issue of best practices, for example, Ulupono plans to borrow grass-fed-dairy technology from New Zealand for its own dairy operation on Kauai. Similarly, it has worked with University of Texas researchers to study how to best use Hawaii’s water resources. And, as we’ve seen, it has done market studies to assess the demand for homegrown food in Hawaii, an issue important to any local farmer.

On the issue of zoning, the most famous controversies, of course, surround urban development of agricultural lands – places like Hoopili and Koa Ridge on Oahu. Advocacy groups, like the Sierra Club and the Hawaii Food Policy Council, view the loss of these important agricultural lands (a descriptive term that sometimes overlaps with the legal classification, Important Agricultural Lands) as catastrophic. Even if the agriculture system is able to weather the loss of agricultural hot spots, like Hoopili, the controversy highlights some of the inherent conflicts between agriculture and development. For example, if landowners believe they may one day be able to convert their inexpensive farmlands into valuable subdivisions, they’re unlikely to offer long-term leases to tenant farmers. Absent long-term leases, farmers are reluctant to invest in infrastructure and often unable to get loans. Many of Hawaii’s small farmers are on year-to-year, even month-to-month, leases – hardly encouraging for a young farmer.

The encroachment of development on agricultural lands creates other problems. When Ulupono tried to help revive the state’s moribund dairy industry with a startup, 583-acre, grass-fed dairy on Kauai, its Mahaulepu neighbors, including the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort, balked at the idea. Even though the property was zoned agricultural, and most neighbors were required to get variances to build in the area, they objected to some of the nuisances of being next door to a working dairy. Ulupono relented, announcing it would reduce the initial size of the herd from 1,800 cows to fewer than 700.

The same kind of scenario has played itself out in the GMO debates and the pesticide fights. Whatever side you take in these arguments, it’s clear that farming and development don’t mix. As suburban sprawl moves people closer to agricultural areas, conflict is inevitable. So, while we may have plenty of farmland available, the people of Hawaii are less and less likely to want large-scale farming in their neighborhoods. That makes the question, “Do we have enough land?” something of a red herring.

Economics Suggests Hawaii Should Specialize
Maybe the question isn’t, “Can we feed ourselves?” but “Should we feed ourselves?”

According to modern, liberal economic theory, maybe not. As pointed out by Peter Garrod, an agricultural economist and the former vice chancellor for research at UH, individuals, companies and even countries reach their greatest efficiency when they specialize.

“Most of your readers, I suspect, are specialized. They do one thing quite well, and they use their earnings from that to buy lots of other goods. If they tried to produce everything they wanted, they probably couldn’t do everything very well.” The same is true for countries and states. The argument is quite simple: If we can buy cheaper food elsewhere, we should focus our efforts on more profitable activities.

It’s not that Garrod thinks we should give up on agriculture; we should just be realistic about our goals.

“Can we feed ourselves?” Garrod says. “If all we did was produce food for ourselves, we would be able to come close. But we would become an agrarian society. On the other hand, could we feed ourselves more than we do now? Absolutely. But even that probably involves a change in consumer values, which I think is already occurring. Buy local, fresh foods, farmers markets, grass-fed beef – these are all trends that allow us to produce more of our own food. But, what proportion of our food should we produce? Well, we’re going to have a hard time if we want wheat and rice and all those other things we enjoy eating. I don’t think we’re going to produce those here.”

Economics does suggest what kinds of agriculture, other than the obvious export crops, make the most sense in Hawaii.

“Transportation costs do make the transaction costs higher for importers,” Garrod says. “This aids local producers. If we had essentially free trade with the mainland, a lot of our local producers would have a hard time competing. We have expensive land, expensive water, expensive labor. But we don’t have free trade; we have a pretty substantial transportation cost. That gives local producers a sort of tariff protection. Goods come here with the cost of transportation added on. We don’t have to pay the transportation cost, so we can compete with that. Our products can be fresher.”

For Larry Jefts, that calculus is an explicit part of his decision on what crops to grow: If the shipping costs for mainland producers exceed the added cost of growing that product in Hawaii, it’s a potentially profitable crop. For instance, that’s why Jefts grows a lot of watermelons.
Anthony Aalto, secretary of the Sierra Club’s Oahu Group, points out there are other economic advantages to the grow local movement. For example, it allows us to capitalize on the Hawaii brand for export or for sale to tourists.

“We have the ability,” Aalto says, “to grow things that can then be processed to generate added value. If we grow cacao then we could then turn it into chocolate. And because Hawaii in and of itself is such a unique brand and has such an image attached to it, organic chocolate grown in Hawaii is instantly going to have a cachet and a brand and a value attached to it that can generate huge amount of income to bring back to the state.”

Even the food grown for local consumption has important economic impacts at home, Aalto says. “When you talk about import replacement, you’re talking about dollars that are going out to the mainland, or to Asia or somewhere, that could stay here. Every dollar spent on a food item that’s grown in Hawaii is a dollar that doesn’t go to California and it stays to boost the local economy.”

Yet, most economists believe the benefits from specialization and trade outweigh the costs.
“The basic issue,” Garrod says, “is that we could become more sustainable if we were willing to decrease our lifestyle. ‘Decrease’ is probably the wrong word, but it helps to remember that trade increases total social wealth. The more sustainable we became, the less time we would have to make money doing something else.”

Government’s Role, Though Diminished, Remains Crucial
If the idea is to increase Hawaii’s production of food, what role does government play in that process? Well, for one thing, it’s shrinking.

“Do you know what the percentage of the state budget the Department of Agriculture gets?” says Dean Okimoto. “It’s 0.7 percent – not even 1 percent. Somebody recently told me that, in the 1960s and 1970s, it was about 15 percent.” To Okimoto, this decline reflects similar changes in the Legislature.
“Did you know, in the 1960s, the majority of our legislators were farmers. So they understood agriculture and could help agriculture.” Today, Okimoto says, only one or two legislators are true farmers. “So, it’s difficult for these guys to understand the issues. And even if they do understand, if there’s a vocal minority out there, they will kowtow to the vocal minority.”

Others are more upbeat about the role of government. On the Hamakua Coast, ranchers such as Jason Moniz praise the state government for allowing ranchers to buy discounted water from the Hamakua Ditch. Starting in January, they’ll pay 25 cents per thousand gallons. That’s still higher than the 10 cents they were seeking, but it’s low enough to start using pasture irrigation in a few key areas.

John Cross, at Olsen Trust, highlights another important point about government’s role. “We have a department that’s run by one of us,” he says. “Who gets appointed to head the Department of Agriculture? It’s not a politician; it’s a farmer. The current guy, Scott Enright, used to grow guava and, before that, sugar.”
Similarly, Jimmy Nakatani, the director of the Agribusiness Development Corp., the other key agency promoting diversified agriculture in the state, is a former farmer and former chair of the state Department of Agriculture. At least, the bureaucrats are technically savvy.

That’s especially important at the ADC, which was created in 1994 to help Hawaii agriculture find its way after the demise of sugar and pineapple. Its primary mission is to acquire and manage key agricultural infrastructure – irrigation systems and high-grade lands – that were once the purview of the big plantations. Nakatani, who took over as executive director in 2011, gives a few examples of how the agency works.

“One of the first projects ADC started with was the Waiahole Ditch,” he says. This was the controversial case over the diversion of water from Windward Oahu to the big sugar plantations on the Leeward side. With the demise of Big Sugar, communities like Waiahole and Waikane wanted that water to remain on the Windward Side and flow through their valleys. Although cultural and environmental advocates prevailed in getting more water for loi and higher stream flow, Waiahole Ditch still delivers water to some of the largest farms in the state in Leeward Oahu.

“I think that went very well,” Nakatani says, “if you look at the number of jobs that are there because the ditch is there. I always look at it as 1,500 to 2,000 jobs, or $150 million worth of business for the state. It doesn’t seem like that because it’s kind of an innocent-looking ditch – plus an amazing tunnel – running from one side of the island to another. But it services the prison. It services Mililani mortuary. It services Mililani Golf Course. And, of course, it services a lot of farms. I’m not sure how many farms, but it includes Larry Jefts and Aloun Farms, of course Monsanto and Syngenta, and then there are a lot of small farms at Mililani Agricultural Park. It’s quite an amazing system.”

ADC also oversees a large and somewhat controversial project on Kauai. “In Kekaha,” Nakatani says, “in the Mana plains, we’ve got approximately 4,000 to 5,000 acres of good land. Most of the land is currently occupied by the seed corn companies, who came in and took care of the infrastructure. We got criticism for that, but you have to have transition. You have to have resources to help you.”

Now, a couple of large vegetable farms have subleased land from the seed-corn companies. It’s a symbiotic relationship, Nakatani says. Because of the way seed corn is grown, with extensive buffer zones and long fallow periods, as much as 80 percent of the Kekaha land is unused at any given time. Nakatani hopes to eventually see 500 or 1,000 acres of diversified agriculture there on the Mana plains.

A Model for the Future
The jewel in the ADC crown is probably the Whitmore Project in Central Oahu. Like many plantation towns, Wahiawa went through a precipitous economic decline when the Dole Plantation closed in 1991. The Whitmore Project, the dream child of state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, is an ambitious attempt to take the old, derelict pieces of the pineapple era and use them to create a thriving diversified-agricultural hub. It’s had a promising start.

At the core of the Whitmore Project is the 1,700-acre Galbraith Estate, which was purchased in 2012 with funds from the state, the City and County of Honolulu, the U.S. Army, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and D.R. Horton Schuler Division. This acquisition gave the ADC 1,200 acres of long-fallow land (OHA received the other 500), which it has already begun to clear and lease to farmers. ADC is also planning and developing the necessary irrigation systems.

The Whitmore Project isn’t just another way for the state to lease agricultural lands. The state also authorized the purchase of an additional 24-acre parcel to serve as an “Ag-Tech” hub, as well as an old industrial warehouse in downtown Wahiawa to be used for packing and processing. In addition, ADC has partnered with the Hawaii Housing Finance Development Corp. to acquire a small parcel of urban land near Schofield Barracks. Dela Cruz envisions this property, adjacent to the area’s only high-rise, as the site of high-density workforce housing. There’s more in the works, including the imminent purchase of 20,000 acres from Dole Food for $175 million.

All these acquisitions surround downtown Wahiawa and Whitmore Village, the former plantation town across the gulch. Dela Cruz believes that, by clustering all these agricultural services, ADC can create the right environment for diversified agriculture to thrive. It certainly seems to solve many of the most persistent problems for farmers: short-term leases, distance from market, access to processing and packing, even capital.

Dela Cruz cites the example of Ho Farms. “They have 50 acres, more or less, in Kahuku, and they were selling their produce to Costco. But, when Costco started to implement new food-safety rules, almost overnight 80 percent of their production was lost. But, because they’re on a short-term lease at Kahuku, they cannot get a loan to build a food safety facility. As part of the Whitmore Project, though, they can get a long-term lease from ADC.” That gives them land, access to capital and proximity to their major markets.

Shin Ho of Ho Farms and state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz stand in an old warehouse outside Wahiawa that Ho Farms plans to renovate into a food-safety facility. Dela Cruz hopes the Whitmore Project can convert the remains of Wahiawa’s pineapple plantations into the infrastructure for a diversified agriculture center.

The Ho family is also leasing an old warehouse in the Ag-Tech Hub and refurbishing it as a modern food-safety facility. This project will likely cost more than $1 million, which the Hos will fund using rent credits from ADC. In other words, their rent is reduced for a certain time to help defray the cost of the build-out.
The beauty of this approach, Dela Cruz says, is there are no out-of-pocket costs to ADC. “By using rent/lease credits, ADC doesn’t have to subsidize anything.” In fact, ADC has a comparatively small operating budget, generating most of its own income from rents and fees. (Acquisitions, though, are usually paid for with state capital spending or general-purpose bonds.)

The most remarkable feature of the Whitmore Project is that so much of it has either already happened, or the funds have already been appropriated. That’s largely due to Dela Cruz’s work, both as a state senator and, before that, as a city councilman.

Aware of the politics involved, Dela Cruz has scrupulously cultivated partnerships with the agencies and people that can impact the project’s success. He has conducted over 70 site visits and tours for the board members and key leaders of these organizations – not to mention press tours and community outreach. Now, each of these organizations has a role to play in the Whitmore Project: The Hawaii Public Housing Authority and HHFDC will help with workforce housing; the Department of Education will help with workforce readiness; the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources will help with research and development and extension services; the High Technology Development Corp. will help with food-safety applications. At least 12 agencies have a stake in the project’s success.

In short, building a diversified agriculture hub takes a lot of footwork and coordination.

Not everyone is happy, of course. ADC director Jimmy Nakatani says some people have complained that the ADC favors larger farms, which don’t need the help as much as the small ones.

“When somebody asks, ‘What about the new farmers?’ I say, ‘New farmers are the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture.’ That’s just the way it goes. ADC is about development. I don’t want anybody who doesn’t have any experience, because the likelihood of them succeeding is not very good.”

Some farmers have also complained the project is too focused on one area. But Dela Cruz views the Whitmore Project as a template for other regions to apply according to their own circumstances. Nakatani agrees.
“If you look at Wailua (on Oahu’s North Shore), there’s an industrial area; there’s agricultural land surrounding it. And it’s probably better off than Whitmore because Wailua was sugar, so it had better irrigation.”

“I can also see it in Pahala, on the Big Island,” he says. “It’s far away from anything. In fact, that’s even a better template. There is infrastructure over there. There’s development with agricultural land surrounding it. There’s a hub for marshaling, so if you have to go sell your produce to Hilo, you just load up in one central area and one guy makes the run, not 20 of them.”

Of course, what these communities need might not be more agricultural resources, but a resourceful and energetic politician like Dela Cruz.

If all of these elements – energy, technology, coordination and more – come together, they probably won’t be enough to make Hawaii completely self-sufficient in food – something we haven’t seen since the days of the Hawaiian kingdom. But that doesn’t mean we can’t rejigger the system to make local farming more productive and enable it to grab a bigger share of locally eaten fruit, vegetables and other foods. Sometimes, that may mean building a Whitmore Project or farmers coming together in a cooperative. It could be an organization like Ulupono or Kamehameha Schools absorbing some of the costs of research or infrastructure. Ultimately, whatever it is, it has to make farming more profitable if we’re going to grow significantly more food in Hawaii.

“That’s something I learned a long time ago,” Richard Ha likes to say. “Food security has to do with farming. If the farmers can make money, farmers will farm.”

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