Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fish tales

Recent events confirm that Maine is very serious about fish. And don’t even get it started on crustaceans.

As we reported yesterday, one of the state’s U.S. senators has asked the federal government to prohibit restaurants from marketing pelagic crab meat as lobster, even if the designation incorporates the more familiar name of “langostino.” Olympia Snowe, a Republican, says her state’s lobster industry has lost $44 million in sales because chains like Red Lobster and Long John Silver’s can buy the less-expensive langostino and peddle it as langostino lobster, accent on the second word. In her view, the feds have to protect the majestic Maine lobster from being confused with the sea mutts she dismisses as “large shrimp.”

But while Snowe was trying to foment a storm, another fish story was unreeling far more quietly within the state. The conclusion will come within 30 days, when a special panel of the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife decides the fate of 10 koi that were seized from a restaurant’s dining-room aquarium.

The oversized, ornamental goldfish, routinely kept as pets in Asia, were taken from a Freeport restaurant called China Rose, where they’d lived for 15 years. Then a game warden spotted the fish and alerted authorities. In Maine, you need a license to raise koi, and China Rose proprietor Coung Ly clearly didn’t have one. Indeed, only one person in the state does.

The state is afraid that koi could escape from captivity, thrive like rabbits in the wild, and starve the endemic species that have turned Maine’s sports-fishing business into a whopper. So they took Ly’s fish—and gave them to a pet store.

Presumably, people can’t buy the specimens. But they can ogle the fruits of Ly’s crime and feel the pull of the dark side. If you know the right people, buying koi in New York or New Hampshire is a cinch.

Ly has begged to have his fish returned, pledging never to let them go or allow them to escape—which, presumably, is a pretty tough feat for a fish.

The odds of an escape will be weighed by the three-person panel appointed by Fisheries and Wildlife. They’ll decide if the fish will be returned to Ly. But regardless of their ruling, he’ll still face courtroom time and the possibility of a $1,000 fine under misdemeanor charges filed against him several weeks ago, for koi smuggling.

Hopefully he’s already erased any mention of langostino lobster from his menu.

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