Gavin Morisada teaches kids to fish. And then he teaches them to release the fish.

Gavin, president of ABC Corp., a Honolulu-based jan/san distributor, along with his friend Scott Furushima, started the Kewalo Keiki Fishing Conservancy. The non-profit organization is dedicated to teaching the children of Hawaii to fish, helping them learn about how to preserve both ocean resources and Hawaiian cultural traditions.

“When my kids were little, I fished with them in the Kewalo Basin area of Honolulu, which was sort of a secret fishing area that Scott introduced us to,” says Gavin. “When the fishing was bad, Scott would tell the kids stories of the olden days. He’d talk about things like the old Japanese boat builders, the big fish that got away, and Mr. So-and-So who used to have a tugboat. The area was a melting pot for Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian people.”

When Gavin and Scott noticed that nobody was working to keep the history of that area alive they decided to do something about it. In 2006 they formed the Kewalo Keiki Fishing Conservancy near Waikiki Beach. The program focuses on school-age children, usually those in the second grade, and teaches the kids how to fish.

“We work with inner city kids, many of whom have never fished, to give them the chance to really experience nature,” says Gavin. “We insist that kids do it all, from the minute they feel the fish pulling on their line, and we teach them to release the fish they catch after the fish have been tagged. Every kid catches a fish, and when they do, they get their names registered in the Kewalo Keiki database.”

Even though there is no catch-and-release law, the Conservancy area is deemed a “no take” zone, which is the only such zone in Hawaii.

In an effort to teach sustainability, fish caught in the program are tagged with a numbered Kewalo Keiki Fishing Conservancy tag.

“If people catch a tagged fish, we ask them to report their catch to the telephone number on the tag. We get information on size and where the fish were caught. We’ve seen that fish both grow and travel surprising distances,” says Gavin.

For example, a fish that was initially tagged when it was 10 inches long can be up to two or three feet long when recaptured. In the first few years of the Conservancy’s existence, fish were re-caught around the island of Oahu. Three years later, one was caught again in Kona, about 200 miles away.

A local university is using information from the Kewalo Keiki program to learn more about the growth rate and migration patterns of these fish that live close to shore.

“We’re doing a cooperative program with the university to provide data that hasn’t existed until now,” says Gavin. “Prior to our program, there was no information about where these fish came from, where they went, and how fast they grew. The Conservancy program has provided some very helpful information for the university.”

The information collected is valuable, but at its heart, the program is about teaching kids to fish — stinky bait, sharp hooks and all.

“My favorite thing about our program is watching the kids experience the wonderment of catching a fish for the first time,” says Gavin.

It’s not just the kids who get to have memorable experiences.

“There is nothing better than the feeling of releasing the fish and letting life return back to the water,” says Gavin.