AUGUSTA – A Harpswell woman is heading to court to seek an opinion that will 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 for now, she wants to give hers a chance to be in a less crowded, less stressful environment.
Last month, Georgette D. Curran lost her bid to ease restrictions on a permit issued by the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife that allows her to have no more than 40 koi in an indoor aquarium.
She has said her pet fish are her Prozac — calming her anxieties — and she wants more people to be able to enjoy having koi.
Justice Donald Marden, after hearing arguments in Kennebec County Superior Court, upheld the department’s decision and commended it for its tact. He also referenced Curran’s larger agenda.
“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.”
Curran does not dispute that.
“I can’t imagine how much money the state is spending on this, a lot of time and money,” she said on Wednesday. “If I lived 100 miles west, it would be a nonissue.”
She argued at the hearing and in writing that koi are accepted just about everywhere as an aquarium trade fish, including in 49 other states. Curran also contends that the department miscategorizes koi as a common carp when in reality it is a subspecies.
Maine game wardens found koi at her home after receiving an anonymous complaint via Operation Game Thief. Curran was initially denied a permit to keep them in April 2012, but received a restricted permit in July 2012 while the court appeal was pending.
She said by allowing koi as an aquarium trade fish, the state could reap revenue from registering ponds and from trade shows.
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,” she said.
Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett, who defended the state’s action in superior court, has said, “The department takes very seriously the control of these invasive species.”
Marden 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.”
Curran said some of her koi are 20 to 22 inches long, and the stress from being in a 700-gallon indoor pond has caused the fish to develop stomach ulcers.
“They’re very sensitive emotionally and physically. They’re stressed because they can’t go out and it’s too warm,” Curran said Wednesday.
“I can’t give any away, but they’re growing. Some have to go but I can’t do it,” she said.
She has a 10- by 25-foot outdoor pond, but the koi must be kept indoors, according to her permit. They also cannot be sold, given away or bred.
Curran filed her appeal of Marden’s decision June 12, citing: “The court’s findings of fact are not supported by evidence in the record. … The agency abused its discretion in applying overzealous restrictions on the permit issued.”
The case will now go to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at: