AUGUSTA – A review panel from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has 30 days to decide whether Cuong Ly will be allowed to recover the 10 ornamental fish that wardens seized from a tank at his popular Freeport restaurant.
Ly had kept the goldfishlike koi for about 15 years, but the state prohibits people from keeping the fish without a permit for fear they could somehow get loose and wipe out populations of native freshwater species.
Since the seizure two months ago at the China Rose restaurant, the koi have been kept at a pet shop in Portsmouth, N.H., pending the outcome of the case.
Earlier this year, Michael Weisman of Topsham received Maine’s only koi permit, which requires him to follow strict conditions such as never selling, breeding or releasing his fish.
Ly’s attorney, Hope Creal Jacobsen, had represented Weisman in his permit bid and told the panel that Ly should also get a permit.
“There’s no chance Mr. Ly would release them into the environment,” said Jacobsen, noting that he cherishes the fish as pets and believes they bring him luck. “He would never let them out of his possession.”
Ly, who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in 1979, appeared to be near tears as he appealed to the board: “Please let me have the permit to allow me to have the fish back. The fish will never get loose in the environment of the state of Maine.”
The three-member board that will decide the case includes Paul Jacques, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; John Boland, Maine’s chief fisheries scientist; and Gregg Sanborn, deputy chief of the Maine Warden Service.
Ly also faces a misdemeanor charge of illegally importing koi, for which he could be fined $1,000. No court date has been set for the jury trial that Ly requested in conjunction with his not guilty plea two weeks ago in West Bath District Court.