Home Fishing Tips & Advice What is the Hawaii State Fish?

What is the Hawaii State Fish?

The official state fish of the Hawaiian Islands is the Reef Triggerfish. These islands are an area of spectacular natural beauty. An ocean separates them from North America, giving them significantly different sealife to other American states. 

Reef Triggerfish, the Hawaii State Fish

The Reef Triggerfish is the official state fish of Hawaii. The state has remained true to its distinctive natural beauty and mystery by choosing a fish that is intimately linked to its islands and mythology. The fish was named the official state fish of Hawaii following a popular vote and state approval in 1984. In 2006, Governor Linda Lingle signed a bill permanently establishing it the state fish of the islands. 

This fish is far from boring and is linked to a range of myths, stories, and legends. The Hawaiian people call this fish Humuhumunukunukuapua`a and often also use the nickname “Humuhumu.” The latter part of the name, “nukunukuapua`a” translates to “snorts like a pig” which refers to the sound that the triggerfish makes. 

Reef Triggerfish Hawaii Mythology

The reef triggerfish has links to Hawaii’s rich history and culture and appears in local mythology and legends. The triggerfish is intimately connected to the Hawaiian hog god, Kama Pua’a. 

According to Hawaiian mythology and legend, the god, Kama Pua’a was a ruthless leader native to the O’ahu island who took the form of both a wild hog and a man. He had superhuman abilities and powers and could command the water and rains to follow his orders. 

Kama Pua’a visited the “Big Island” one day and fell in love with the goddess of lava and fire, Pele. Pele was aware of Kama Pua’a’s ruthless side and refused his advances in a cloud of lava and smoke. He was ready for her attack and simply pushed the cloud away. She was impressed by his power and strength and they got married. 

However, it soon became clear that Kama Pua’a and Pele were not meant for each other, and Pele was soon annoyed with Kama Pua’a hog-like habits and brutal nature. Pele tried her best weapons, steam and lava, in an attempt to get rid of Kama Pua’a, but he was strong enough to withstand each attack. She called on the gods of the underworld to support her forcing Kama Pua’a to retreat to the seas. 

As soon as Kama Pua’a touched the surface of the ocean he turned into a Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa. He became a fish with scales so thick they could withstand boiling water and the deepest seas. 

Reef Triggerfish Appearance

Reef triggerfish are small in size and usually do not grow to more than eight inches in length. Due to their small size, they are often the prey of larger predators. Their bodies are, because of this, designed to easily hide. The triggerfish has a thin and flat body and can alter the color and pigmentation of its scales to camouflage. They often hide in the crevices of rocks and coral. 

It is easily recognized and one of the most easily recognized of all the fishes of the Hawaiian islands. It has an angular shaped body, bright colors, and a distinctive pattern. Its fin arrangement and dorsal spine also make it easily distinguishable. The name “humuhumu” means “to fit pieces together” in Hawaiin. This might refer to the fish’s color patterns that look like patches of color. 

When they are not camouflaging and hiding, their bodies are black, yellow, and grey in color. They are one of the only ocean fish species to have teeth. They are not commonly eaten by humans, however, you can see them on snorkelling tours of the Hawaiian islands. 

Reef Triggerfish Movement

It has a distinctive way of swimming and propels itself along using waving movements of the widened dorsal and anal fins. This motion gives the fish great maneuverability and means it can move forward, backward, or hover over the rocks and reef. Its broom shaped tail enables it to quickly thrust and dash toward protection in crevices or the reef.  

When pursued by a predator, the triggerfish often makes a grunting sound, which also warns of danger to those nearby. Its eyes are located high on its head and can move on their own, enabling them to look for food and predators. 

Reef Triggerfish Location

The reef triggerfish is usually found in shallow outer reef areas and often on basalt reefs in surge-swept locations. This fish usually swims near the ocean floor in search of food. It often feeds on algae, reef invertebrates such as small crustaceans, brittlestars, sea urchins, sea snails, and worms. 

When it is threatened by a predator, this fish will dive into a gap or crevice in the reef or seafloor. It will wedge itself into the space by erecting its dorsal spine on its head, locking it into place with the smaller spine behind it. Only the fish itself can unlock its spines. A third spine extends from the fish’s stomach further securing it into its hiding place. These fish also use this behavior at night, enabling them to rest in a specific place in the reef. 

Is the Reef Triggerfish Edible?

The reef triggerfish are not commonly eaten or valued as a delicacy today. However, it is edible and was used as a food by early Hawaiian people. They were often caught using cooked sweet potatoes or pumpkins which lured the fish into baskets that were lowered into the sea. 

Triggerfish were often also dried to be used as food for those who did not desire its taste, especially in times when fuel was in short supply. They were also sometimes used as a substitute for pigs during some religious ceremonies. 

To Sum Up

The reef triggerfish was established as the state fish of the Hawaiian Islands in 1984. This fish is intimately connected to Hawaiian culture and mythology. it is a beautifully distinctive and colorful fish that reflects the unique natural beauty of the islands and its sea life. 

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Growing up on the south shore of Long Island, Chum Charlie has always had a passion for fishing. His favorite fish to catch is a striped bass and his favorite bait to use is bunker. Off the water, he enjoys blogging and sharing his favorite fishing tips & tricks that he has learned over the years.