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Big Island company wants to release grouper fish

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii >> A Big Island aquaculture company wants to release in Hawaii waters giant grouper that it bred from fish acquired in Taiwan, but state Department of Agriculture rules prohibit the release of imported fish.

The giant grouper, called hapuupuu in Hawaii, are believed to have once been fairly common in Hawaii and throughout their habitat, which extends west through Polynesia and Indonesia to East Africa. But they are now rare.

Kampachi Farms initially wanted to breed locally caught grouper but couldn’t find a specimen, West Hawaii Today reported (http://bit.ly/Q7tL0L ). So the company acquired broodstock from Taiwan, with the intention of raising them and releasing their offspring. The farm now has about 50 such fish, born in 2008 and each about 2 feet long.

Kampachi Farms has asked the state Department of Agriculture to revise its import permit so it can release the fish.

The company cites the potential benefits to conservation and tourism if reef populations of the species rebound, and have reached out to area tour companies, the West Hawaii Fisheries Council and other entities for support.

"Think of the potential tourist draw," said Neil Sims, CEO of Kampachi Farms. "To be able to dive on these guys would just be terrific."

But William Aila, chairman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, said it’s not clear what environmental impacts would be if the fish were released.

"If there were found to be negative impacts, we would certainly hold (Kampachi Farms) responsible for damages," Aila said. "I strongly urge them not to release the fish."

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