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Hanalei taro farmer hopes to win battle with pesky snails by harvesting them

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Posted: Friday, December 10, 1999 12:00 am

HANALEI VALLEY — Farm hands at the W.T. Haraguchi Farms in Hanalei spend 20 to

25 hours a week trying to eradicate apple snails from just one acre of taro

land. So far, the snails are winning, reproducing like crazy and munching their

way through the rich, poi-producing plants.

But farm president Rodney

Haraguchi may have hit on a solution. He'll harvest the juicy buggers, cook

them and sell them locally.

He's tried everything else.

The apple snail

first appeared in Haraguchi's taro fields in February of 1998.

Today, it

is a major pest, present in at least 48 of the 50 lo'i (fields), eating every

part of the taro plant it can sink its teeth into.

Haraguchi said he has

tried everything short of introduction of the snail's known predators

(alligators and Cayuga duck) to try to control or eliminate the

pest.

Inmates from the Kaua'i Community Correctional Center, traps,

screens, even electric shock, couldn't stop the spread of the snail, a

voracious eater that needs no mate to reproduce, and reproduces by the millions

each year.

The snail, accidentally released on Kaua'i several years ago

from Maui, inhabits the island from Kekaha to Wainiha, devouring just about

every type of flora in its path.

Haraguchi yesterday won approval from the

Kaua'i Planning Commission to establish a commercial kitchen in the Haraguchi

home. The kitchen will be used to cook apple snails, which will be marketed to

local stores, restaurants and individuals for human consumption.

Haraguchi

credits his wife Karol with the idea of harvesting the snails, which are

considered a delicacy by some.

His primary goal is to totally eradicate the

snails from his fields. But if it can be done by turning lemons into lemonade,

so much the better.

Haraguchi isn't recommending that taro farmers who have

avoided the pests introduce them for harvesting.

The damage the snails do

to the taro plants isn't worth it, he said.

There is an urgent need to

control the snails at Haraguchi Farms, Karol Haraguchi said, because in one

year the snail population has multiplied into literally millions of the

critters.

Harvesting instead of the current practice of crushing live

snails under heels has been effective in reducing snail populations in taro

farms on Maui. Also on Maui, some taro farms have gone out of business because

of the snail, said Bill Spitz, agricultural expert with the county Office of

Economic Development.

So damaging is the pest that the Haraguchis notice

plants in the middle of fields toppling over because of the damage done by the

snails, which Rodney Haraguchi says eat 24 hours a day.

And, as they have

razor-sharp body parts, the snails (some reaching the size of baseballs) pose

health and safety threats to farmers, Karol Haraguchi commented.

"You don't

need two snails to multiply," said Dr. Ramon de la Pena, Planning Commission

chair and an expert in plants and their pests.

He amended a condition

attached to the commission's approval of use and Class IV zoning permits to

allow other farmers on the island to bring their snails to the Haraguchi

kitchen for cooking.

The state Department of Agriculture does not allow

transportation of live snails.

In other action, the Planning Commission

approved permits necessary for the county to proceed with construction plans

designed to protect Ho'one Road along Po'ipu Beach, and to allow for the

restoration of Brennecke Beach.

The commission also approved permits

necessary for construction of a 100,000-gallon water tank to serve an

agricultural subdivision near Kilauea.

COCO PALMS HEARING DELAYED: A

hearing on permits for reconstruction of the Coco Palms Hotel was postponed

when it was determined that public notification requirements had not been met.

The hearing has been rescheduled for the commission's next meeting, Thursday,

Jan. 13.

Also deferred to the Jan. 13 meeting was action on permits needed

for the Hanalei Dolphin restaurant to allow outdoor seating for meal service on

the grounds immediately east of the restaurant.

The state Department of

Health asked for a deferral on its request for permits needed to establish a

residential group home for emotionally disturbed children on the campus of

Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital.

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