Poison Prawns Circulating on Big Island

October 1, 2020, 2:17 PM HST (Updated October 1, 2020, 2:17 PM)
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The Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) believe bad actors are poisoning Big Island streams in an attempt to extract Tahitian prawns.

Over the last three months, officers with the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) have investigated six suspected chemical poisonings of streams north of Hilo.

DOCARE officers have collected samples of Tahitian prawns, water, and sediment to verify poisonings after photographs showed mass die-offs of the popular local delicacy. Some photographs show prawns dying in streams or on their banks. Officers believe this indicates the prawns tried to get out of water that had been poisoned, the DLNR said.

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Two years ago, in April 2018, DLNR documented another series of poisonings in many of the same streams. DOCARE investigators say unless suspects are caught in the act of using pesticides or other chemicals on streams, cases are difficult to prosecute.

As such, they are appealing to people to be careful about the sources of their prawns and to provide detailed information if they believe a stream has been poisoned.

Notify DOCARE at (808) 933-3460, 643-DLNR, or via the free DLNRtip app. Note the time of day, date, and vehicle/license plates. Provide photographs if possible and a call-back number. If you observe prawns crawling out of the water, freeze them as soon as possible, as poisons break down quickly.

The quicker this information is provided the higher the chance specialists can get water and sediment samples.

  • Poisoned streams in Hilo are suspected attempts to harvest Tahitian prawns. PC: DLNR
  • Officers believe the prawns' attempts to crawl out of the water indicates the use of poison in their harvesting. PC: DLNR
  • SWIPE LEFT OR RIGHT
    • Poisoned streams in Hilo are suspected attempts to harvest Tahitian prawns. PC: DLNR
    • Officers believe the prawns' attempts to crawl out of the water indicates the use of poison in their harvesting. PC: DLNR

“These poisonings not only risk the public’s health when they unknowingly eat a poisoned prawn, but clearly this illegal activity has dramatic and negative impacts on the otherwise pristine streams flowing from the mountains and into the ocean on Hawai‘i island,” said DOCARE Chief Jason Redulla. “If anyone has information on any of these poisonings, we strongly urge you to contact DOCARE.”

No arrests have been made, but several of the incidents are being actively investigated. Anyone convicted of poisoning a Hawai‘i stream could face felony criminal charges and civil penalties, which upon conviction can carrying significant fines and/or jail time.

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