O’opu: Fish Who Swim Upstream in Hawaii

August 25, 2017
Updated May 8, 2020

One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up, instead of what they have to gain.

Rick Godwin

There is a high chance the fish shown in above video shot at the Nu’uanu Stream, are about two dozen rock climbing Gobi fish, or in Hawaiian, the O’opu fish, which is a fish that live in saltwater, freshwater, and brackish.

The O’opu climb upstream, then spawn at the top of a stream, called the headwaters, and then they die! The fish’s offspring swim downstream, and the process repeats itself.

To hear that fish climb upstream is something that is usually thought to happen in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, but fish that swim upstream in Hawaii is practically unknown!

The Best Place to Spot the O’opu!

The best place to spot the O’opu, is at 170 North School Street. Stand on the mountainside of the bridge and look down into the Nu’uanu Stream. Around 2014, I was able to go into Liliuokalani Botanical Garden and walk into the Nu’uanu Stream!

But since then, that access point has been fenced in, and its gates locked. Despite efforts with a fence to deter access to the water, clothes that hang on the chain-link fence are evidence of people who reside there at the Nu’uanu Stream. So, visit streams before more vagrants or homeless get to them, which causes access to the streams to be blocked off by chain-link fences!

Watch Out for the Homeless!

When I was at 170 North School Street, I saw at least one person who took a shower from a waterfall in the Nu’uanu Stream. This bridge, as are many other bridges around the island, is the entrance to a path that links roads to sources of water, so bridges could be a favorite spot for homeless or vagrants.

Where the bridge meets land, there usually is a pedestrian and dirt path that leads to a stream. In other words, where there is a stream, and there is a bridge, there is typically a path to get to the stream, as foreboding, humble, or wild the path may look!

Watch Out for Automobiles!

If you visit 170 North School Street when automobile traffic is heavy because cars are getting off and on to the H-1 freeway, bring some earplugs as it may get noisy! Do not worry if people in their automobiles stare at you.

Rural and suburban bridges are automobile-oriented with few pedestrians who walk on it. Because there usually is no convenient parking nearby, it is rare to find people who drive automobiles and walk on bridges.

In this way, one with a car is disadvantaged because an automobile driver must find convenient parking, which may be little or non-existent, which deters many automobile drivers from going to certain places.

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, if there are no other automobiles around, it ends up being too much work to find parking.


So, sometimes, do not use the car! It is easier to arrive at bridges via foot, not automobile! And now that we are incentivized to walk and explore on foot, this is your chance to check out 170 North School Street.

Watch the O’opu Move!

It takes some patience to watch these O’opu fish climb up a river. Compared to other fish that swim against the current and climb uphill, the O’opu is not as noticeable. When they are stationary, you may mistake them for pebbles in the river, but these are not pebbles! These are O’opu, and you will see them jockey for position, and likely, you will need to spend at least 30 minutes at 170 North School Street to watch them move and climb.

If you do not see the O’opu move locations and climb to a higher spot, come back in 30 minutes, because their behavior might be caused by where and how much sun shines on them.

Related Links:

“Aquaponics Which Involve Fish and Taro at the “Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa, ” BLOG

Proposed Aquaponics Along the Ala Wai, “Ho’okuleana Design” ©2016, 2017, BLOG

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A Chinese American, Emy Louie (雷慧妮) was born in Hong Kong and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i. She graduated from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in 1991 and earned a degree in Architecture.

In 1993, Ms. Louie relocated to the mainland United States and from 2007 to 2012, she hosted her radio show to interview the movers and shakers of sustainable design and green building and taught continuing education classes to design professionals.

She is president of Emy Louie, Consulting Services, which works on design, conservation, and environmental projects. Since 2018, Ms. Louie spends her time in Honolulu and Central America to do environmental field research.

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