February 5

Appeal to keep koi in Harpswell fails at state Supreme Court

Ruling upholds state’s position that koi are an invasive species.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

A Harpswell woman has lost her plea to be allowed to keep koi.

click image to enlarge

KOI: Ulysses swims atop Spottie in the indoor aquarium that holds koi at the Harpswell home of Georgette Curran.

Photo courtesy of Georgette Curran

The state Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday denied Georgette D. Curran’s request to overturn a June ruling in Kennebec County Superior Court by Justice Donald Marden.

Georgette D. Curran wanted the higher court to allow her to keep koi — brightly colored fish used in ornamental ponds and aquariums — without restrictions.

Ultimately, she wants to legalize koi as an aquarium trade fish, but more immediately wanted to give hers a chance to be in a less crowded, less stressful environment.

Curran had been given a temporary permit from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that allowed her to keep up to 40 koi in an indoor aquarium while her court case was pending.

She was hoping to ease restrictions on her cache so she could move them to an outside pond in warmer weather.

The court order did not specify what Curran is supposed to do with the fish or give her a deadline by which to remove them from her property.

It was unclear whether state wildlife officials would attempt to have them removed. Cpl. John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service said Wednesday the koi case remains an active investigation, so the department was not releasing any information about it at this time.

In an interview, Curran said her koi were thriving.

“They are wonderful, they are growing. I love them dearly,” she said Wednesday. “I pat them and tell them daily I’m working so that they can go out in their pond.”

She reiterated the position she has maintained throughout the court process. “Koi are a subspecies of a common carp. They’re domesticated like goldfish,” she said.

The Supreme Court’s decision, which came in the form of a memorandum says, “Contrary to Curran’s contentions, evidence in the administrative record supports the department’s factual findings, and the department did not abuse its discretion in denying Curran a permit.”

She said she was disappointed in the state Supreme Court ruling, which arrived by letter at her home on Wednesday.

“I just don’t understand that they don’t understand that you can’t lump a subspecies and a species together any more than you can lump a dog and a wolf together,” she said.

She also said she is preparing to seek a new permit to allow her to keep her fish. The state Supreme Court decision noted her current permit has expired.

“They’re not taking my fish,” said Curran, 66, who represented herself in the case. “I’m too old to be having this hassle for a world-wide non issue. It makes absolutely no sense to be spending money on this issue when it’s something that could be turned around to create jobs and revenue. Why don’t they turn this into a positive thing?”

By allowing koi as an aquarium trade fish, she said, the state could reap revenue from registering ponds and from trade shows.

She argued in person and in writing that koi are accepted just about everywhere as an aquarium trade fish, including 49 other states. She has said her pet fish are her Prozac — calming her anxieties — and she wants more people to be able to enjoy having koi.

In the earlier decision, Justice Donald Marden upheld a departmental ruling and commended it for its tact. “Even though the Legislature has found koi to be a nuisance invasive species, the department has still allowed Ms. Curran to possess the fish,” Marden wrote. “Ms. Curran appears to be using this petition as a platform to have the possession of koi legalized in Maine.”

Maine game wardens found koi at Curran’s home after getting an anonymous complaint via Operation Game Thief. Curran was first denied a permit to keep them in April 2012, but got a restricted permit in July 2012 while the court appeal was pending.

In her permit application, Curran said she has owned fish for 55 years, and kept koi for about the past seven years. “They are a totally unique fish, charming, endearing, calming, alluring, addictive personalities. They are my Prozac.”

Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett, who defended the state’s actions, was unavailable for comment on Wednesday because state offices were closed at noon.

Previously he said, “The department takes very seriously the control of these invasive species.”

Marden’s decision also noted that Maine lists koi among “the most harmful group of fish species” on the Invasive Species Action Plan of 2002 and that it regards koi as posing “an unreasonable risk to Maine native fish and their environment.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631 badams@centralmaine.com Twitter: @betadams
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