AUGUSTA — A Harpswell woman who describes her pet koi as a substitute for Prozac told a judge Wednesday that Maine is too strict when it comes to laws regulating the fish.
The state considers the fish an invasive species that must be kept out of Maine waters.
The koi problem was aired in Kennebec County Superior Court, where Georgette D. Curran appealed a ruling from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. She wants the judge to remove restrictions on her keeping koi.
Justice Donald Marden heard arguments from her and from Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Marden did not rule from the bench.
“It’s only in Maine that this case would be heard,” Curran told the judge. Curran said koi are accepted just about everywhere in the world — including the other 49 states — as an aquarium trade fish.
She said the department is miscategorizing koi as common carp when in reality koi is a subspecies. “It would be similar to using wolf laws on domestic dogs,” she said.
“The state’s issued her a conditional permit,” Randlett said before the hearing. “These are considered an invasive species, and there’s a concern if they’re released to the environment. The state takes very seriously the control of these invasive species.” Randlett said the commissioner issued Curran a permit to keep the koi while the court case is pending.
Koi captured headlines about five years ago when 10 koi were seized from an aquarium at the China Rose Restaurant in Freeport. After some litigation, owner Chuong Ly got the fish returned and a five-year permit to display them, provided he also posted a notice saying that they were illegal in Maine without a permit.
From his restaurant Wednesday, Ly said his koi had died about a year ago while he was overseas, and his permit did not allow him to replace them. “I was the one normally taking care of them,” he said.
Curran’s permit allows her to keep 40 carp in an indoor aquarium.
Curran, 65, said she did not bring any of her koi to the hearing, though she was tempted to bring one of them, named Ulysses. She said her ultimate goal is to make koi legal in Maine as an aquarium trade fish.
She maintains koi are not aggressive — except for ravenously eating their own eggs — and that one of her koi, 22-inch Lemon, routinely swims with a number of inch-long guppies right on top of him. She told the judge that if koi were released outside accidentally, it is unlikely they would survive winters in Maine.
Curran, a fishkeeper for 55 years, said she added koi to her aquarium about seven years ago and has enjoyed raising them.
“They are a totally unique fish; endearing, calming, alluring, addictive personalities. They are my Prozac,” she wrote last year on her application to for a General Wildlife Possession Permit.
Her permit restrictions say she has to provide “a full written description detailing the physical attributes of the 40 koi” with photos, if possible, and drawings of her fish-keeping facility.
Curran said state game wardens went to her home Tuesday to try to count the number of koi in her 900-gallon indoor pond.
She is not permitted to breed the fish and must destroy “any accidental or incidental progeny.”
If a fish dies, it has to have a necropsy and the department must be notified.
Marden is expected to rule on the case later.
Betty Adams — 621-5631