Maria C. Haws is an associate professor of aquaculture at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. She conducts research in the fields of invertebrate biology, aquaculture and coastal management, and natural resources management policy.
Haws has a dual appointment as a UH Sea Grant aquaculture extension specialist. She also serves as director of the Pearl Research and Training Program, a joint project of UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center and the UH Sea Grant College Program.
In addition, Haws serves as affiliate faculty at the College of the Marshall Islands. She also is on the Board of Directors for the Marine and Environmental Research Institute of Pohnpei where she provides technical assistance in aquaculture development of pearls, sponges, corals, marine ornamentals in the U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands.
“What is important to me is contributing to industry development, technology transfer and student training,” says Haws. “This of course involves research, but I try to focus on applied research that answers questions critical to industry progress and making aquaculture more sustainable in the social, economic and environmental sense.”
In her role as a UH Sea Grant Aquaculture Extension Specialist, Haws provides technical assistance to the Hawai‘i aquaculture industry, with a focus on development of the shellfish industry. She also provides technical assistance to groups managing traditional Hawaiian fishponds to revive ancient and new forms of aquaculture production.
Her pursuit of developing native species for aquaculture includes study of the chame fish (Dormitator latifrons), an air breathing fish from the Americas, and the Hawai‘i native oyster, Dendostrea sandvicensis.
“Developing native species for aquaculture is important so that we have additional culture species that are more adapted for local conditions, to avoid introduction of non-native species, and because while conducting basic aquaculture research, we elucidate the life cycles and physiological ecology of these species,” she says. “This information contributes to conservation and management.”
Haws’s work on the Hawaiian oyster is significant since it is an important species in Hawai‘i, being one of the last relatively common bivalves, yet so little information exists on it. Her research has discovered basic information on its biology and life cycle and shown that it can be a great aquaculture species.
Haws is also doing research related to closing the life cycle for limu kohu, which if successful will yield new information on the biology and ecology of this species, and potentially make contributions to cultural aspects, since limu kohu is prized by Native Hawaiians and could potentially be a high value aquaculture product.
Haws also has conducted basic aquaculture grow-out trials in traditional Hawaiian fish ponds starting in 2007. She says this demonstration of the biological and economic feasibility of oyster culture, along with the spearheading of the State Shellfish Working Group, helped “push DOH into getting started on full implementation of the State Shellfish Sanitation plan.”
“Previously Hawai‘i had been the only U.S. state or Canadian province without a bivalve industry due to the failure to fully implement the plan,” she says. “They just announced they are going to move ahead on this, including for some areas on the Big Island, which opens the door to Hawai‘i developing a shellfish industry.”
Haws has conducted research with an industry partner at a new shellfish hatchery in Hawaiian Paradise Park. The team conducted research for three years to develop methods to grow oyster larvae and microalgae under East Hawai‘i conditions that led to a $1 million investment in the hatchery. The company has hired seven former research employees and students.
Additionally, the larvae and oyster seed they produce, plus the production at UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center with UH Hilo Aquaculture Workforce Development students, helps oyster farmers in the continental Pacific Northwest who would otherwise not have enough oyster seed to stock their farms because of the impact of ocean acidification. The project is now helping to supply farmers in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California while at the same time continuing to develop new production methods for Hawai‘i conditions.
Haws has authored many papers that describe the contribution of aquaculture to coastal management. This includes efforts in Nicaragua to develop community-based management of a threatened cockle species which has applications throughout the tropical developing world where cockles are an important fisheries resource.
She also conducts research on climate change adaptation and writes policy documents for USAID.
“These are peer-reviewed publications, and in theory, become part of the U.S. development policy and guidance, so hopefully these have national and international impacts,” she says.
Haws serves as co-deputy director for the USAID project, “Sustainable Coastal Communities and Ecosystems (SUCCESS),” in Tanzania, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and the Marshall Islands, and she is principal investigator for the USAID AquaFish Project, “Human Health and Aquaculture,” in Mexico and Nicaragua.
Along with her regional and international research, Haws is faculty at UH Hilo’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, where she teaches introductory and advanced aquaculture courses and climate change adaptation. She also directs and manages UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center shellfish hatchery, where she trains and mentors student hatchery employees and interns. She also advises graduate students in the UH Hilo Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science program.
“We provide training to many students each year that enables them to acquire skills for their future careers,” says Haws. “Many of these students gain two or three years of solid work experience by the time they graduate.”
Haws’s plans for the future include continued research and activities that foster aquaculture development in Hawai‘i, the Pacific region and internationally.
“I’d like to ramp up the Aquaculture Workforce Development program, improve capacity to provide aquaculture extension for Hawai‘i, and continue research and outreach on climate change adaptation in Hawai‘i and the Pacific including the policy research that I do for USAID,” she says.
Haws received her bachelor of arts in biology from Reed College, Oregon, and her doctor of philosophy in wildlife and fisheries sciences from Texas A&M.
Lab photos by Brian Hampson, professor emeritus at California Polytechnic State University. To see more photos and learn more about the lab mentioned in the post, visit Hampson’s Blogspot.