CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@ STARBULLETIN.COM
Members of the Hawaii Goldfish & Koi Association -- Steve Hopkins, left, Shirleen Horimoto, Gary Hironaka and Bonnie Nakahara, with Guy Kmett in the back row -- say that koi love company, and should be grouped with other fish. CLICK FOR LARGE
Serious koi owners give their fish TLC
Members of The Hawaii Koi & Goldfish Association are downright serious about their hobby. Many boast that they started out with one fish in a small pond, eventually expanding to accommodate hundreds. They describe their fishpond upgrades as others might refer to an extension on a home.
What makes this koi worth thousands and that koi so much less? Collector Bruce Ushijima explained how the value of a koi is determined both in competition and in setting price:
» Fifty percent weighs on symmetry. If the fish's shape is not good, for example if it has a crooked back or mouth, it's value is definitely lessened.
» Thirty percent of judging is based upon balanced color patterns, or having colors in the right places.
» Another 20 percent focuses on color intensity. "They are looking for snow white, not off white; red, not pink," Ushijima said. "Even a diamond has flaws. But, they go for the one that best fits the criteria."
» Criteria may also differ depending on a particular variety of koi. During a competition in Japan, Ushijima saw a koi that cost $650,000 take second place. "It was beautiful, just not big enough."
"We started out with one or two fish, but things got out of control," said Steve Hopkins of Rain Garden Goldfish and Flower Farm. "Now we have thousands, everything from fish that were just born yesterday to big ones."
Hopkins is looking forward to the goldfish competition at Sunday's Ohana Koi & Goldfish Show, which also will feature 28 koi tanks, fish sales, a plant and orchid sale and keiki games. Enthusiasts are coming with their fish from the Big Island and as far as San Jose, Calif.
"It is like a fine wine, you just develop an appreciation. The longer you stay with it, the higher your standards get," Hopkins said.
Kenneth Horimoto, another association member, became fascinated with koi at a young age. "I used to raise them from small-kid time," he said. "Everywhere we moved, I would build a new pond."
Now, Horimoto and his wife, Shirleen, make regular trips to Japan to meet with koi dealers and participate in shows.
"We are also bringing down a breeder from a very established koi farm in Japan (Daisuke Maeda of Momotaro Koi Farm) as our guest judge," said Shirleen. Momotaro produces grand champion koi every year.
The tremendous amount of care involved in raising koi limits the number of people who can take the hobby as seriously as the Horimotos.
"Koi hobbyists had to be determined people," said Shirleen. "People gave up because they had to drain and scrub their ponds."
Nowadays, better types of filters make it possible to do the cleaning with the press of a button, Kenneth said. "Before it was a half day of work to clean the filters. Now you don't even get your hands dirty."
Transporting the fish to a show such as Sunday's is another monumental feat. The fish go into plastic bags, pure oxygen is added and the bags go into cardboard boxes. Before they can be released into tanks, the water temperatures need to be equalized, explained Guy Kmett, president of Hawaii Goldfish & Koi Association.
When koi are imported, they are quarantined for a few weeks before being introduced to the ponds. "We want to make sure they don't have any diseases or parasites," Kmett said. Koi now run the risk of contracting a disease that is similiar to AIDS in humans.
"Koi love company. You need to put another fish in the quarantine tank, even if it is a goldfish," Kmett said.
The fish also need time to de-stress. "They are traveling so much, they can become weak or more susceptible to illness," he added.
Yes, a lot of tender loving care goes toward prize-winning koi. Ushijima said, "My fish are eating more expensive food than I am."