Back To The Future:
It’s early morning in Hilo Bay on October 15th, 2025. From the vantage point of a shore fisherman out on the long harbor breakwater, you can see the entire Bay and all its activity. The stragglers of the day fishing fleet are just clearing the harbor mouth for a day of free trolling under sail off the windward side of the Big Island; you can see their sails all the way to the horizon on this clear a day.
Even when they first showed up in 2018, these little 37-foot sailboats made a lot more economic sense for the Hawaiian fisherman than motorboats. That’s because they could spend all day trolling under sail, cover a hundred miles looking for fish, and only have to pay for their sandwich fixings for lunch.
Those first sailing fishermen got to keep whatever they caught, without losing half of it to the gas pump; today they can make their wages for the day by just catching a couple of 40-pounders. And they often catch a LOT more than that: losing most of the Asian factory fleet in the South Pacific to fuel increases over the last eight years has been a good thing for these fishermen: the decrease in fishing pressure has really helped the tuna and other fish stocks rebound.
Back then, trolling all day in a motorboat was so expensive that it wasn’t an option to make money fishing. The boats would only troll for an hour or two before dark to try and find the schools of tuna that they would sit on all night and “ika-shibi” fish. Those days of cheap gas and motor fishing boats are long gone, except for the occasional rich man’s sport fishing boat trolling through the sailing fishing fleet. Everybody on the sailboats still waves; they’re in clean air, and I think they secretly feel sorry for the rich guy breathing diesel fumes on his expensive yacht.
Besides the Young Brothers tugboat and barge, which only arrives once every two weeks now since the economic crash of ’19 halted all development and slowed down economic activity in the Islands, there’s a couple of 75-foot Tropic-Bird class fishing boats unloading chilled fish at the inner end of what used to be the Matson pier.
They’ll happily tell you where they caught the fish: “out there”, and then they’ll point and laugh (you know how likely a fishermen is to tell you where their best spots are). But we know they caught them from 300 to 1,500 miles out from Hilo port, because they can make that 1,500 miles in about three days, and these two were only gone 10 days total. They’ve each got a load of 25,000 pounds of fresh fish to transfer to the cooler on shore; full capacity for that class.
Eight years ago that pier was often occupied with the cruise liners that made regular visits, but they’ve all been mothballed in obscure bays since then because of the fuel cost increases of the last eight years. Pretty much the same has happened to the frequent container ships that used this dock; the crash got them all.
There’s still a ship every six or seven weeks though, but the stuff in the containers is so valuable these days that it often has an armed guard for every container that comes off the ship (can’t pay for expensive shipping by shipping cheap stuff!).
Further out on the pier (where it can let loose its dock lines and begin its run to Honolulu under sail without using any fuel at all), is the first of the “Kahu Moanas“, the 150-foot interisland passenger and refrigerated cargo carriers, boarding passengers for the 190-mile run to Oahu while her cargo is loaded. This one is THE Kahu Moana, her sistership Kahu Wave is doing an exploratory run from Alaska to Japan with refrigerated Alaskan salmon and king crab right now; she’ll bring back electronics, medical devices, and high-priced sake for the West Coast mainland market.
Her other sistership Kahu Ehulani is halfway from Hawaii to New Zealand with a cargo of Hawaiian organic coffee, macnuts, and chocolate; she’ll return in two weeks with a cargo of New Zealand cheese and stainless steel bolts and fastenings (NZ makes the best stainless in the world because their active dairy industry uses so much of it). She does that run four times a year now, then fills in on the Big Island to Oahu run during the busy season.