16 October 1998

KIWI KOI PLAGUE

Brian Whites fishermans tale is not about that huge fish

that got away but rather the hundreds of amazing specimens

that could not get away, as Christina Waugh reports

IN Te Kauwhata on New Zealands north island, Brian Whites two dairy farms are just recovering from the worst floods in 40 years. Surrounded by dead fish and nursing a giant dead Koi carp, weighing 15kg and measuring around 80cm in length, Brian says there are thousands of them this big.

"We milk pedigree Jerseys on one farm and Friesians on the other. This winter there was very heavy rain upstream during July and the Waikato River flooded big time. Lakeside Farm is in rolling countryside but theres about 180 acres of flat land between the river and Lake Waikari. When they both rose and spilled over the banks, the flat lands went under water."

Brian goes on, "We managed to pump 100 acres dry but I was stuck with 80 acres still covered in a couple of feet of water. There was one block of around 50 acres where these Koi carp came right over the stop banks from the lake. They swarmed across the paddock, chasing worms, and then got stuck when the waters went down. The carp live on worms, crustaceans, snails and slugs – they actually pulled out the grass in the paddock to get at the bugs underneath.

As well as their protein diet, Koi like nothing better than nibbling at plants and grasses around their habitat. They were introduced to New Zealand in an attempt to clear vegetation which was clogging rivers and streams. Unfortunately, the double benefit of ample water and warm temperatures caused an explosion in the number and size of the fish. Since 1958 theyve grown into the stuff of nightmares, being treated as vermin by New Zealands Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. One NZ company holds a licence to harvest the Koi, but only for pet food or bait.

"Theres nothing we can do with them apart from cut them up for bait," Brian says. "We cant eat them because of their horrible diet of worms. They need to be kept in fresh water and fed properly for ages to become edible – I believe carp are a delicacy in Asian countries." He shakes his head sadly, "But not here in New Zealand, thanks very much."

When the flood waters drained away, the carp found themselves landlocked and Brian estimates he and his sons picked up about 2500kg of dead Koi of all shapes, sizes and ages. He laughs, "Lets hope we dont have floods like this again next year!"