Hawaii Regional Cuisine has grown into an agricultural, economic and political movement; I often reflect upon how proud I am that Merriman's Restaurant supports both local farmers and the local economy while offering fresh, authentic food at its peak flavor.
Every day, we must eat and make choices about how to live and how to spend our money. The money we spend for food generates a large part of our economy. Choosing to patronize a restaurant founded on regionally grown products strengthens the local economy and community.
At Merriman's our pledge is:
- to continue to support the local farmers, especially farmers who are choosing sustainable agriculture methods that support the earth and nourish the earth so that it is fertile and rich for future generations.
- to offer you the finest local interpretations of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Our menu changes daily, with you, our guest, in mind;
- to continue to promote Hawaii Regional Cuisine and raise awareness among residents and visitors alike. We are always trying to further our understanding of good food, and how good food positively effects our families, our community and our economy.
"We hope you, too, are inspired to support local farmers and a healthy Hawaii through Hawaii Regional Cuisine." --Peter Merriman
Each Merriman's location donates gift certificates to local non-profits. Some of these non-profits include The Daniel R. Sayre Foundation, Local sports programs, American Cancer Society, Boys and Girls Club, Seabury Hall, Maui Arts and Cultural Center, A Keiki's Dream Organization, Maui Economic Development Board, Hawaii Cattlemen's Council, Kahilu Theater Annual Sponsorship, Sponsorship of Maui Coastal Land Trust and the newly created Hawaii State Land Trust and many more!
Every Merriman's location hosts an Annual Anniversary Dinner to commemorate each year that location has been in business. At Merriman's, we believe in sharing our success, so we use this opportunity to host a fundraiser for a local non-profit organization. Past anniversary dinner sponsorships have included:
- Mauai Food Bank
- Kauai United Way
- Hawaii Preparatory Academy
- North Hawaii Community Hospital
- Hawaii Island Land Trust
- Hamakua County Farm Bureau
- Waimea Country School
- Kawaihae Canoe Club
- North Hawaii Hospice, Inc.
- Hawaii Island United Way
- Parker School Trust Corporation
- Tree Hawaii
- Kanu o ka Aina
- Kohala Hospital
- Waimea Elementary School
- Kahilu Theatre
- The Food Basket Inc. / Hawaii Island Food Bank
- North Hawaii Women Children's Services
- Punana Leo o Waimea
- Hawaii Island Humane Society
- Tutu's House
- Maui Coastal Land Trust
- Hawaii State Land Trust
Merriman's Culinary Scholarship
Each year Merriman's selects a few students to receive a grant to attend a Hawaii culinary school. For more information click here.
COMMENTARY: All can play role in protecting bottomfish By Peter Merriman
Closing the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument to fishing was seen as a triumph by environmentalists, but many fishermen have been driven to other Hawaiian waters.
While a healthy competition within Hawaii's thriving culinary scene generates awareness among residents and visitors about the benefits of local farming and the joys of good food -- food that is locally grown and locally interpreted -- there is one important arena where the competition fails: off-island, within our Hawaiian waters.
Restaurants face an ever-increasing pressure to bring the most prized fish species to their menus year-round. Bottomfish such as 'opakapaka and onaga (caught at depths between 600 to 900 feet), and mahimahi, ono and 'ahi are in high demand locally and for export.
With such a strong, year-round demand for fish, the catch rates of onaga, for instance, "have declined steadily since the early 1950's, and have dropped even more steeply in the past 10 to 15 years," according the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Web site. "As these catch rates have dropped, so has the proportion of mature fish within the catch. About 84 percent of the commercial landings of onaga from the main Hawaiian Islands in 2000 were immature -- had not yet spawned. This is a very high percentage of immature fish."
As fish are taken before they spawn, the populations around the Islands are depleted. What's more, many bottomfish are slow-growing. The onaga matures at just over 4 years, and once the fish reaches a large size, at about 26 inches in length, 50 percent of the females will then spawn for the first time, while others spawn later in maturity.
Signs of depletion abound, and have been well documented: 'Opakapaka commercial landings have steadily decreased, from 226,000 pounds in 1998 to 133,000 pounds in 2003, and heavy fishing pressure threatens their future existence.
Thankfully, within every action we can choose a corresponding counter balance. To generate this counterbalance for life within the Hawaiian waters, we must act -- thoughtfully and with focus -- to help restore fish species and bring our waters into a natural harmony.
Fishermen, chefs, restaurateurs, fish purveyors, Native Hawaiians, environmentalists and legislators must work together to find a solution that ensures a wild fish supply for generations to come. I propose a four-course path:
- Let's designate three months of the year when no bottomfish will be sold. Families will continue to catch for personal use, but the sale and exportation of all bottomfish will be prohibited during these three months within the breeding season (often, the summer months).
- Chefs and restaurateurs should commit to serving smaller portions of fish. Stir-fry, dim sum and other Asian preparations satisfy guests and have a much smaller impact on the wild fish supply. When we cut the typical 8-ounce portion of fish to 4 ounces, we effectively double the amount of wild fish available. With the creation of wok-charred ahi and Asian fusion cuisine, Hawaii's culinary creative have established a reputation for leading the nation in culinary trends. When we satisfy diners with smaller portions of flesh -- thereby increasing the fish supply and helping diners re-learn the proper size of a healthy, satisfying portion -- the entire culinary world will follow our cue.
- Hawai'i must outlaw purse-seine boats, often large vessels with huge nets and a collaborating workboat, which indiscriminately catch fish, leading to over fishing and the subsequent death of many fish the vessel does not seek to land.
All of us -- chefs, fishermen, legislators and environmentalists -- must learn to trust each other. While environmentalists saw the closing of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument as a triumph, many fisherman did not share this sense of appreciation. The area has become pristine during the past 25 years, thanks to restricted fishing, yet those boats previously allowed access to that area moved to other Hawaiian waters, adding increased pressure on the fish supplies.
As the population increases and the fish supplies dwindle, we inch toward a critical mass that motivates us either by collective awareness or from the place of necessity. Let's move forward with pro-active awareness, before there's a need to legislate by necessity, and develop policies, work ethics and lifestyles that support long-term sustainability.
Peter Merriman is co-founder of Hawai'i Regional Cuisine. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.
Merriman's Restaurant Group has been supporting its community since its first restaurant opened in 1988. From donations to fundraisers to Merriman's Culinary Scholarship Program, Merriman's has stayed true to the company mission statement of, "Do the right thing".