Catastrophic fish kill still scars Niihau diet


POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

LIHUE, Kauai » Niihau residents still are not eating fish months after thousands of dead fish washed ashore.

The dead fish appeared in mid-January shortly after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dumped rat poison on nearby Lehua island on behalf of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Lehua is less than a mile north of Niihau, a privately owned island with a population of about 100.

Niihau residents say they still have not been told whether the rat poison and dead fish are related.

In the interim, they have avoided consuming fish, a diet staple.

The state Department of Health issued an advisory in February urging residents on the private island not to eat fish from nearby waters.

“;We still don't know what's happening,”; said Keith Robinson, a member of the family that owns Niihau. “;We still don't know whether it is safe to eat fish, and we are still looking for an official statement.”;

Robinson added that there are reportedly about a dozen monk seals who used to regularly visit the island and have recently “;gone missing,”; while others appear “;extremely sick.”;

He said, however, that residents have not had a food shortage and have not been in serious need of food and supplies. A report posted on the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs Web site erroneously reported the island needed food, he said.

Robinson said the island's supply barge arrived last weekend, and there was no such shortage of food or supplies.

“;The supply line of food to Niihau is open, but the bottom line is the people have not been able to go back to eating fish. The Department of Health has not given us clearance,”; he added.

Janice Okubo, Department of Health spokeswoman, said the department never actually issued a direct ban for eating fish on Niihau.

“;It was an advisory; people need to use their own common sense and judgment,”; she said, when asked whether Niihau fishing could resume. “;For us to do a ban and to enforce it, we would have to have really strong evidence.”;

Ilei Beniamina, a part-time Niihau resident who is an assistant professor in counseling at Kauai Community College, believes residents are not getting enough vital nutrients that the fish once provided, such as protein and calcium.

“;Our people depend on the ocean. The ocean is their Costco,”; said Beniamina.