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Wardens seize illegal fish, flightless blue jay, squirrel from Harpswell woman

Posted March 25, 2014, at 2:47 p.m.
Last modified March 27, 2014, at 12:22 p.m.

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Georgette Curran of Cundy's Harbor in Harpswell feeds and talks to her pet koi in the basement of her house Wednesday June 27, 2012.
Georgette Curran of Cundy's Harbor in Harpswell feeds and talks to her pet koi in the basement of her house Wednesday June 27, 2012. Buy Photo
Georgette Curran of Cundy's Harbor in Harpswell feeds and talks to her pet koi in the basement of her house Wednesday June 27, 2012.
Georgette Curran of Cundy's Harbor in Harpswell feeds and talks to her pet koi in the basement of her house Wednesday June 27, 2012. Buy Photo
Georgette Curran of Cundy's Harbor in Harpswell
Georgette Curran of Cundy's Harbor in Harpswell Buy Photo

HARPSWELL, Maine — A team of 10 game wardens, biologists and animal welfare agents on Monday seized more than 50 illegal koi fish and other animals from a Cundy’s Harbor woman who has battled the state for more than two years to keep the exotic fish.

Georgette Curran, 66, said she awoke to officials “banging” on her door, and was then served with a warrant. The team from the state then seized her fish, along with a 14-year-old blue jay and a squirrel that Curran said her Chihuahua had nursed and nurtured since it was a newborn.

“They told me they were going to handcuff me if I didn’t cooperate and sit down,” she said. “Thank goodness for Melvin, my rooster. He was trying to defend me against those wardens.”

Curran, who kept her koi in a 900-gallon tank in her basement during the winter and a 6,000-gallon backyard pond in the summer, has argued since the spring of 2012 that a Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife classification of carp as an invasive species does not apply to her koi.

According to the DIF&W, koi — a subspecies of carp — and other invasive fish have the potential to take over Maine waterways and eliminate native fish species if released into a pond, lake or river.

DIF&W spokesman Mark Latti said Tuesday that, armed with a court order, a team of game wardens, biologists, animal welfare agents, a fish pathologist and a hatchery employee removed 47 live and five dead koi from Curran’s home, along with a gray squirrel and a blue jay. The latter two animals, he said, were being kept in violation of a law prohibiting possession of captive wildlife.

Officials also seized scheduled veterinary drugs that Curran did not have a license to either possess or administer, according to Latti.

Game wardens first visited Curran’s home in the spring of 2012, after learning about her koi. Curran received a written order from the DIF&W that she must transport her koi out of state.

Curran appealed the order, and was granted a conditional permit to keep the koi until the legal process played out.

But last month, the Maine Judicial Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that effectively allowed state wildlife officials to seize the fish.

Latti said that after the conditional permit was issued, officials visited Curran’s home and found that she was in violation of the permit because she was keeping koi both inside and outside, keeping more than 40 koi, including some juveniles — indicating that the koi were breeding — and that some of the koi were dead.

Curran argued that rules regulating carp should not extend to koi and that her fish could not possibly escape into Maine waters. The pond is isolated from any waterways and has a filter system to keep the water clean. Curran then added a full roof and 8-foot-tall fencing enclosure, with locking doors, around the outside pond.

Curran said Tuesday that she never breeded the koi, but asked, “How do you stop a male and female koi from having fish sex?”

On Monday, the koi were inspected by the fish pathologist, who discovered sores on two of them. State officials then moved the confiscated fish to a hatchery truck, which Latti said took them to “an undisclosed secure location.” He said the fish will be monitored for disease and officials will then determine what to do with them.

State officials are seeking a suitable home for the squirrel and blue jay, which can’t be released into the wild, Latti said. The blue jay, he said, is unable to fly.

Latti said the court ruling “said we’ve acted with tact and restraint in this ordeal, which I think is fairly telling.”

But Curran said she feels “violated.”

“It’s nothing anybody should have to go through,” she said. “I just want my squirrel back. Every morning Tommy would be right there waiting for me to get him and snuggle him. He knows nothing else but us.”

Curran plans to meet with her attorney next week to discuss what to do next.

“Things were just not done right,” Curran said. “This is America and we shouldn’t be bullied by our peers who are supposed to be upholding the law.”

Curran is scheduled to appear in West Bath District Court in June to face a charge of importing freshwater fish or eggs without a permit.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect charge against Georgette Curran. She was charged with importing freshwater fish or eggs without a permit, not with illegal possession of wildlife.

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