Maui residents outraged after thousands of native fish are killed in Wailuku River

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The project by the Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM), under the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), was intended to help native o’opu travel upstream. Instead it killed them. Maui residents are frustrated and said the water still hasn’t been diverted back to the stream.

Aheone Kanamu visited Wailuku River Wednesday and couldn’t believe her eyes.

“I was just shocked and confused…all I could see was just hundreds of hundreds of dead, not just o’opu, but hihiwai. There was opae, there was three different types of species of o’opu that were affected by this,” Kanamu explained.

She and several others there tried to save them using buckets and coolers.

The problem started Monday when water was diverted by Wailuku Water Company and Mahi Pono LLC to install a fiberglass fish ladder. It was meant to help o’opu migrate up a 22-foot vertical concrete wall built in the flood channel.

“The whole point of the fish ladder was to have some type of navigable pathway for stream life to go upstream but yet it was counter productive that they put this in and killed thousands of stream life doing that,” said Hokuao Pellegrino. Pellegrino is president of Hui O Na Wai Eha, a nonprofit organization that monitors water resources on Maui.

The CWRM fish ladder was completed on Tuesday.

DLNR accepted responsibility for what happened.

Their statement said: “the reduced streamflows in connection with the fish ladder project, exacerbated conditions resulting in this large fish kill.”

“If the water went back into the stream when it was supposed to, it would have minimized, greatly minimized the issues that we’re still facing,” Pellegrino said.

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case sent her apologies in a statement: “it is obviously ironic that our project to improve stream habitat for o’opu appears to have resulted in loss of hundreds of fish. We regret this situation and express our sincere apologies to the Wailuku River Community for these events.”

For residents, the apology isn’t enough.

“They made a formal apology, but to us that has to be backed up by action and there’s no action,” Pellegrino said.

“How long is it going to take for this stream and the native aquatic habitat to bounce back from this is beyond us… this whole thing has been heartbreaking.”

In a letter on Thursday, DLNR stated they “officially notified both companies to reinstate the IIFS and return full regulated flow to the stream.”

Pellegrino said it hasn’t fully been restored yet.

“I just went there this morning and the stream has, I wouldn’t even call it a trickle, it’s just like a wet path near the river mouth…the stream needs water ASAP and its not getting it.

He said Mahi Pono has complied with the DLNR’s request to divert water back to its normal flow but he claims Wailuku Water Company hasn’t.

“Wailuku Water Company is not complying with the law, they are not releasing the amount that the stream requires,” Pellegrino said.

KHON reached out to a representative for Wailuku Water Company and is waiting for a response.

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