Hunting sustainably requires careful preparation and an unerring respect for the ocean environment. “I was always taught that with this skill comes responsibility,” Kimi says. TIM DAVIS

Kimi Werner

Growing up on Maui, Kimi had the seemingly infinite Pacific not far from her front step. But throughout her childhood, she was taught something Hawaiians have always known: You should never take more than you need.

“My mom was the one who really drilled it into me that a true fisherman or fisherwoman only takes what their family can eat,” she remembers. “There was no such thing as filleting a fish and just keeping the fillets. You never threw away any part—bones were for soup, and the guts would go into the garden to nourish the plants. Looking back, it was a really conscious way of life.”

But in her 20s, after taking up freediving and spearfishing in a more committed way, Kimi found there were many who didn’t share the values she’d inherited.

“I had a hard time at first,” she says, “because I’d see the waste that went on. A lot of people took too many fish and hunted more for the kill than they did for food. It took a while until I found the right partners. When I did, it just so happened that they were national champions—Wayde Hayashi and Kalei Fernandez. But they didn’t use their abilities recklessly. Even with the depths they could go and the fish they could shoot, it was how selective they were that inspired me the most.

“But seeing that everyone didn’t operate like they did had me worried,” Kimi continues, “and one day a friend asked me how I saw the ocean and fish stocks compared to when I was young. I told him I saw huge differences and a lot less fish. Until then, I’d always thought of conservation as something that closes places off—no diving, no fishing. So when he challenged me on what I should do, my first response was that I’d have to stop spearfishing, the thought of which broke my heart.

“He pushed me to think harder, and I remembered how Wayde and Kalei approached hunting. So I just said ‘Well, I’m going to be the best fisherwoman I can possibly be and promote harvesting sustainably. I’ll show that being the best doesn’t mean coming out of the water with a whole stringer full of fish you don’t need.’”

Now a leader in the spearfishing community—and a national champion herself—Kimi has become a passionate advocate for a conservation-based approach to the sport. Her environmental work includes the direct-action Roi Roundups she’s supported since 2008. A series of backyard tournaments targeting invasive roi, to‘au and ta‘ape, the Roundups are a way for Hawaiians to help ensure the survival of their native reef ecosystems.

“Those species were imported over 50 years ago,” Kimi says, “in the hopes of bringing new snorkeling attractions and food sources. But they basically took over our reefs. They’ve continued to multiply, and the native fish populations have declined.”

With no bycatch, spearfishing has proven to be the most efficient and selective way to target invasives. At the Roundups, the ta‘ape and to‘au are usually cooked on-site to feed the competitors and local families; the roi are given to organic farmers to use as fertilizer. Dive all day, bring in a bunch of fish and make the reef a better place: For a passionate spearfisher, what’s not to love?

“Considering that a two-pound roi eats an average of 150 native fish a year, it feels great to do the math and see how many fish we’re potentially saving. I think we’re off to a really good start. After all, if we want the resource to be here tomorrow, we have to take care of it today.”