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State issues apology after thousands of native fish in Wailuku killed

State Department of Land & Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources staff attempt to rescue native fish Thursday morning at the mouth of Wailuku River. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

WAILUKU — A state project earlier this week meant to boost survival for native fish and shrimp resulted in killing possibly thousands of them days later.

Emotions ran high for residents trying to rescue the fish Thursday morning, decrying what they said were senseless deaths in a river the state is supposed help protect.

“I was all sick,” said Robert Iiams Jr. of Paukukalo.

Wailuku River water was diverted for project site safety reasons starting Monday, officials said, as work commenced to build a state Commission on Water Resource Management fish ladder on the 22-foot vertical concrete wall in the river below Market Street Bridge. The project was finished Tuesday afternoon and flows were restored from diversions Wednesday and Thursday, according to CWRM.

The diminished flows due to the project combined with low rainfall contributed to the downstream deaths, the state said. It issued an apology Thursday afternoon.

“It is obviously ironic that our project to improve stream habitat for ʻoʻopu appears to have resulted in loss of hundreds of fish,” Commission on Water Resource Management Chairwoman Suzanne Case said. “We regret this situation and express our sincere apologies to the Wailuku River community for these events. The Commission thanks the community for its support of the fish ladder installation and will continue to work towards improving stream channel conditions in the Wailuku River.”

Residents who frequent the mouth of Wailuku River were scrambling Thursday to rescue Hawaiian goby, called ‘o’opu, seen floundering on dry stream beds and puddled in pockets of warm water below the project site where the state had flow reduced starting Monday for safe working conditions. Small piles of dead fish and shrimp were strewn about.

Using nets, volunteers and state Department of Land & Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources staff gathered ‘o’opu Thursday and transported hundreds of them via buckets and coolers to higher elevations in Iao Valley, hoping they had a chance for survival.

For full story, see Friday’s edition of The Maui News.

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