HONOLULU – Everyone thought the humuhumunukunukuapuaa was Hawaii’s state fish. As it turns out, the brightly colored fish with the excessively long name has been dethroned.
The news shook the world of Rep. Blake Oshiro, who found out the designation was no longer official from Joel Itomura, a 6-year-old fish-loving son of a friend and constituent.
“I was really surprised,” said Oshiro, who has drawn up a bill that would make humuhumunukunukuapuaa — also known as the rectangular triggerfish or “humuhumu” for short — the official state fish for the islands.
The stubby-nosed, brightly striped and slightly aggressive little fish whose name few tourists even try to utter (it’s pronounced HOO-moo-HOO-moo-NOO-koo-NOO-koo-AH-poo-AH-ah) is commonly believed to be the state’s favorite. The fish figures into tourist trinkets, broadcast commercials and a much-beloved song about a little grass shack.
Much like its name, the fish’s road to titlelessness is long and confusing.
In 1984 the state Legislature asked the University of Hawaii and the Waikiki Aquarium to survey the public and come up with a candidate for the state fish. The humuhumu was swept into the spot in part through the support of school children who learned of the campaign through classroom projects.
Although the issue of the state fish would seem to come with little controversy, the method used to poll the public was questioned and lawmakers limited the designation to five years.
No one told the public that the humuhumu’s reign was over, so few knew anything had changed.
And the humuhumu has its opponents.
State Rep. K. Mark Takai said he had objections to a similar bill a decade ago because many of his constituents were in favor of the oopu, a brownish, freshwater gobbie endemic to the islands, he said.
The humuhumu is not unique to Hawaii, he said.
There is no lack of fish species specific to the islands. Thirteen species of wrass alone are found here and nowhere else in the world.
But while humuhumu may call more than just Hawaii its home, it has a few undeniable attributes on its side — cuteness and unpalatability.
“Here’s a cute little fish. It kind of looks like a pig and it squawks and everything,” said Chuck Johnston, editor of Hawaii Fishing News.
It’s also a good candidate because no one eats a humuhumu, he said. Picking a popular game fish such as the ulua could be a problem if environmentalists push to protect the fish from fishermen, he said.
Johnston has asked Gov. Linda Lingle to give the fish the state title in perpetuity through an executive order.
In her reply early last year, Lingle said that decision should instead be left to the public. She also pointed out that the humuhumu has not historically been held in very high regard, having been used by early Hawaiians as fuel for their fires, not their stomachs.
While Johnston had originally advocated for the Pacific blue marlin two decades ago, his support now for the humuhumu is unwavering.
“The logical choice is the one that was already selected,” Johnston said. “It has been there. He’s been crowned.”