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Huge fish kill off Niihau triggers consumer alert


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POSTED: Friday, February 06, 2009

KAPAA, Kauai » Officials with the state are investigating a fish kill on the island of Niihau and have warned residents to ask where their fresh fish is coming from.

The kill of near-shore fish over the past week in the normally pristine waters off Niihau has prompted an investigation led by both the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Health.

“;Can it be passed on to humans? That's what we're trying to find out,”; said DLNR Aquatic Biologist Don Heacock.

Until they have found out the cause of what killed the thousands of fish, officials with the Department of Health ask that the public not consume any fish they catch that seems impaired or sluggish in its movements or has any unusual odor.

They also ask that people ask where the fish was caught and avoid consuming fish in the waters off Niihau.

Heacock said that the Health Department officials were sending tissue samples of the fish to laboratories yesterday and were hoping for an answer “;within a few days.”;

He added that it is the first instance of a fish kill on Niihau, as far as he knows.

Niihau, just west of Kauai, is privately owned and is known for its pristine offshore waters teeming with wildlife, including fish, sharks, monk seals and other marine species. The native Hawaiian population on Niihau “;eat fish every day,”; Heacock added, but will be keeping away from the staple until the source of the problem can be found.

Heacock, who has investigated numerous fish kills, including the one two weeks ago in Nawiliwili Harbor, said there could be a dozen reasons for the kill. The previous problem at Nawiliwili, which included deep-water lantern fish, does not appear to be related, however.

The dead fish off Niihau were reported Monday by the Robinson family, which owns the island, according to state officials. The kill, however, could have occurred as long as a week before its reporting.

The majority of the fish were concentrated to the southeast beaches of Niihau, but smaller amounts were found around to the north end of the island and up the leeward coast, Heacock added.

Two species of humuhumu (triggerfish) accounted for 95 percent of the density of fish found. Nenue (rudder fish) and a snapper (taape) were also found, but in smaller quantities.

“;We were somewhat surprised on how few species there were”; considering the variety of fish near the shores of the Forbidden Isle, Heacock added.

Opihi and other crustaceans appeared to be unaffected, but will be tested to help find the cause.

Another state team, including Heacock, will return to Niihau today to continue the investigation.