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Hilo Man Slapped With $600K Fine For Poisoning Prawn in Stream

May 15, 2021, 7:30 AM HST
* Updated May 15, 7:47 AM
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A Hilo man was fined more than $600,000 after he reportedly poured poison into the Pāheʻeheʻe Stream resulting in the deaths of an estimated 6,250 Tahitian prawns.

On Friday, May 14, the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) issued a fine of $633,840 against 54-year-old Wayne Keaulana Spatz. This is the largest fine ever for an aquatic resource violation in the state.

“The action today sends a strong and clear message to anyone else who is endangering people’s health and killing life in our streams,” said BLNR and DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. “Over the past week, we’ve received additional reports of individuals using pesticides or chemicals used in pesticides to poison streams for the sole purpose of collecting prawns to sell for human consumption. It is illegal, despicable, and morally indefensible and anyone caught will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Reports of the violation first came in on July 13, 2020, when DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) Officer Edwin Shishido received an anonymous tip and witness reports of someone pouring “Home Defence” liquid ant poison into the stream.

Shishido worked in collaboration with DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) to conduct a biological assessment of the stream, and the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) to collect water, soil, and prawn samples to test for specific compounds linked to ant poison. The prawn and soil samples tested positive for bifenthrin, which is an active ingredient used in insect repellent.

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“These crimes against people and our resources simply cannot be tolerated. All of us in law enforcement encourage people to contact us whenever they see suspicious activities happening around streams, particularly in the North Hilo District, where historically, most of the Tahitian prawn poisoning has occurred,” Shishido said.

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Shishido worked with a DAR legal fellow and DAR biologist Troy Sakihara on the investigation. Sakihara, based in Hilo, conducted the biological surveys of the stream to assess the impacts from the incident.

“The illegal and unethical use of these pesticides in streams have shown to cause extremely damaging and long-lasting effects to all aquatic stream animals, native and non-native,” Sakihara stated in testimony to BLNR on Friday. “These pesticides are highly toxic to all aquatic animals and result in extensive recovery time, particularly for native and endemic stream life.”

Typically, Sakihara added, non-native and invasive species are the first to repopulate these impacted streams. Therefore, these types of activities can severely alter the natural biological conditions and overall health of the stream ecosystem. Further, human health and pets (cats) can be at risk if the prawns that are captured using pesticides are consumed.”

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Case said this kind of use of poison to harvest natural resources is appalling and extremely damaging to our natural resources wherever used.

“Globally it’s understood to be a terrible method of collecting fish which is harmful, not just to those fish and potentially to the people who consume them, but very devastating to the native resources around them,” Case stated. “And it takes a long time to recover. This very significant fine lets illegal fishers know that we take these matters, very, very seriously.”

In addition to $100 fines for each of the 6,250 prawns Spatz took, he was fined $200 for use of poisonous substances. The fine also includes $8,740 for staff research and overtime for DOCARE, a DAR legal fellow, and DAR staff.

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