Hawaii Archipelago

Ranging from the windswept, flat atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the world’s tallest mountain when measured from the ocean floor (Mauna Kea) in the main Hawaiian Islands, the Hawaii Archipelago is rich with diversity. Due to its unique geography, the island chain boasts 11 of the 13 known climate zones from humid tropical, to arid and semi-arid, to temperate and alpine zones. Hawaii is rooted in the culture and traditions of both its aboriginal people and immigrant ethnicities and is the only area under the Council’s jurisdiction with the political status of being one of the USA’s 50 states. Hawaii relies upon its majestic landscapes, clement weather and natural resources to draw in visitors, with tourism accounting for nearly a third of the economy.

The history of fisheries in the archipelago began with the original settlers and spans millennia. Fisheries today continue to be of cultural, social and economic importance to Hawaii’s people. Management of the offshore bottomfish, crustacean, precious coral and coral reef ecosystem fisheries are found in the Hawaii Archipelago Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP). This management plan includes a structure that encourages community participation and addresses such issues as habitat and ecosystem, regulations and enforcement, and protected species. Data collected from the fisheries are analyzed in annual reports and used, along with public input, to modify management to adapt to the changing environment and community needs.


The Hawaii Archipelago is the most remote island chain in the world. It is located more than 1,000 miles away from the next country (Kiribati) and more than 2,000 miles away from the nearest continent (North America). It is the northern most point of the Polynesian triangle and the only part in the northern hemisphere. The volcanic island chain of 137 islands spans more than 1,500 miles from the island of Hawaii (the Big Island) in the south to Kure Atoll in the north. The Emperor Seamount chain, which extends beyond Kure, is geologically linked to the Archipelago. The northern end of the chain (from Nihoa Island to Kure Atoll) is comprised of small, uninhabited and older land masses referred to as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The inhabited southern end of the chain is known as the main Hawaiian Islands and consists of Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui and Hawaii (the Big Island). The Archipelago occupies over 634,023 square nautical miles of the Earth in both land (4,852 square nautical miles) and water (629,171 square nautical miles).


The earliest settlements on the Archipelago are generally accepted to be by people from the South Pacific around 300-800 AD. These settlers, along with those from later South Pacific migrations, brought with them the flora (e.g., sweet potato, banana, sugar cane, taro) and fauna (e.g., pigs, chickens, dogs, rats) from their homelands. European explorers first arrived in 1778, bringing with them additional plants and animals that further transformed the islands’ natural resources. They also brought foreign diseases, weapons and ideas that led to near genocide of the Native Hawaiian people and culture.

The Western concepts of privately owned lands and capitalism replaced indigenous communal properties and subsistence lifestyle. Following the establishment of sugar cane and pineapple plantations, other ethnic groups were brought to the islands to work in the fields. Over the following two centuries, Hawaii evolved to include many ethnicities but remains rooted in the indigenous Native Hawaiian culture. In 2007, the ethnic make up of Hawaii’s population of 1.2 million included Hawaiian/Part Hawaiian (24.2%), Caucasian (23), Japanese (15.6), Filipino (11.2) and Chinese. The official languages are English and Hawaiian.

Political Status

Prior to Western contact in 1778, the Hawaii Archipelago had for millennia consisted of individual chiefdoms. Aided by Western technology, ideology and foreign settlers, this pre-contact political structure was transformed within decades into an archipelagic-wide monarchy. The Kingdom of Hawaii was recognized as an independent sovereign state by the major world powers of the time (United States, Great Britain, France and Germany).

Foreign influence and aggression plagued the Hawaiian monarchy throughout the latter 1800s and culminated in the overthrow of the Kingdom in 1893 by a group of European and American subjects accompanied by the US Marines from the USS Boston. In 1894, Hawaii was established as a Republic and was annexed to the United States four years later. In 1900, Hawaii became a US Territory and remained so for the next half-century including World War II. On August 21, 1959, Hawaii became the 50th State and is nicknamed the “Aloha State.”

The State of Hawaii has two levels of government—State and county. At the State level, the government includes the governor at the head of the executive branch, an independent judiciary, and a 51-member House of Representatives and 25-member Senate as the two legislative chambers. The counties perform services that are typically assigned to cities and towns. The State’s capitol, Honolulu, is on the island of Oahu.

The overthrow of the Hawaii monarchy remains a heated issue to this day with the US Congress apologizing in 1993 for the “suppression of the inherent sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people.”


Hawaii has seen a host of industries throughout its history since Western contact. Sandalwood and whaling dominated Hawaii’s early economy, but agriculture (e.g., sugar cane and pineapple) eventually took over until tourism became its biggest industry around the time of statehood. Today, Hawaii’s Gross Domestic Product of $61.3 billion (2007) shows tourism as continuing to be the foremost industry ($12.8 billion) followed by Federal defense spending ($5.4 billion) and agriculture ($205 million). Among the visitor industry attractions is the Hawaii-Pacific cuisine, which features local island fish dishes.