Trout thieves leave Kaua‘i on the hook

LIHU‘E — Where did the fish go? State officials are scratching their heads trying to figure who stole more than 3,000 trout from a holding pen at the Pu‘u Lua Reservoir in Koke‘e State Park. The fish had been stocked for the upcoming trout season.

The fish were gone March 28, but only on Friday the state Department of Land and Natural Resources sent a news release asking for the public’s help to catch “what appears to be fish thieves who left taxpayers on the hook.”

“We are very concerned about this action, which harms the opportunity for many Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i families who look forward to the opening of Koke‘e trout fishing on June 16,” DLNR Chair William Aila Jr. said in a news release.

“Last year we had a really bad fishing season,” said DLNR Aquatic Biologist Dennis Shinno, adding that only 77 trout were caught in the 2011 season.

This year, DLNR officials were banking on a banner trout season in Koke‘e. And for that, they did a lot of planning and hard work. Shinno said that in March 2011, DLNR bought thousands of trout eggs and hatched them in a state facility in Honolulu.

In October, the fish were shipped to Kaua‘i and placed into six different floating racks in the Pu‘u Lua Reservoir. The fish were raised in the 15-foot-deep cages made of nylon nets until they were big enough to be released.

By March, about 5,000 trout had been released into the reservoir.

The last floating rack, however, was still holding about 3,500 fish, according to Shinno. On March 28, state workers were dismayed to find that the fish had mysteriously disappeared from the pen.

“In the morning, the workers went up to release the fish, and the cage was empty,” Shinno said, adding that the majority of fish were gone. “We estimate about 3,000 fish were taken.”

On Kaua‘i, the trout can only survive in Koke‘e’s cold water. If the fish were released in the lower parts of the island, such as in Waimea Valley, they would perish because the water there is warm, Shinno said.

“Nobody knows who took the fish,” said Shinno, adding that law enforcement has been notified, and if anyone hears any “bragging” they should notify the Kaua‘i Police Department.

The DLNR Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement should also be contacted at 274-3521.

As a preventive measure, Shinno said the DLNR is keeping the gates that lead to the reservoir locked until June 16, when the trout season opens.

“No one can go there unless they have a key,” Shinno said. The season lasts until the end of September.

DLNR is asking for anyone who sees  anyone besides state employees around the reservoir before the season to immediately contact KPD or DLNR DOCARE.

Despite the loss, the DLNR still expects to have a good season, according to Aila.

“Right now we have enough fish,” Shinno said.

A Freshwater Game Fishing License is required for rainbow trout in the Koke‘e Public Fishing Area.

Licenses can be obtained at www.ehawaii.gov/dlnr/fish/exe/fish.cgi or at Bucky’s Liquor in Waimea, Koke‘e Natural History Museum, Koke‘e Lodge, K-Mart in Lihu‘e, Lihu‘e Fishing Supply, Salt Pond Country Store in ‘Ele‘ele, Waipouli Variety in Kapa‘a, Walmart in Lihu‘e and Westside Sporting Goods in Waimea.

The list of authorized license agents was last updated in DLNR website in 2009, and those seeking a permit should call the agent to check for availability.

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