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Big Island vegetable farmer close to quitting over Nene problem

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: May 02 2012 05:57:09 PM HST
Updated On: May 03 2012 09:10:29 AM HST

Catherine Cruz talks with a farmer on the Big Island with big problem with our state bird, the Nene.

HONOLULU -

Endangered Nene birds have discovered the Yamashiro farm a few years ago, and now don't seem to want to leave.

Lance Yamashiro used to have some 60 acres in production in the Big Island’s Volcano area.
Now, it’s mostly a field of weeds.

"It used to be all daikon, head cabbage, Chinese cabbage and lettuces," said Yamashiro.

Yamshiro's farm used to be neatly manicured rows of greens that he was proud of, until the Nene developed a liking to his greens.

"I was shipping one Matson container a week to Los Angeles. They liked the product up there, and I shipped twice a week to Honolulu. I had 7 wholesalers at one time," Yamashiro said.

"Fifty thousand pounds a week ,and now we are down to a thousand pounds so this is the last straw," said Yamashiro.

Yamashiro let it go all fallow after years of watching the nene population explode.

One day, he said he counted 62 nene birds in his fields.

After struggling for the four last 4 years, he has exhausted his reserves.

Yamashiro used to have 10 full-time employees, but is now down to three, who come in once a week.

He just recently had installed five green houses, and hopes to get reimbursed from the federal government.

Yamashiro hopes that this lastest venture works.  A positive aspect about the greenhouses is that nene birds don’t usually like to go under cover.

Yamashiro is quickly running out of options.  He is trying to diversify.  He recently put in aquaculture ponds and stocked then with catfish and tilapia.  But he was stunned when the Nene began targeting them too.

"I called the state and said, ‘They are eating my fish,' and they said, 'They are not supposed to.' And I said, 'Come up, and look,'" Yamashiro said.

"If we don’t have anything this year, than that’s it. We are going to have to shut the doors," said Yamashiro.

He fought back tears of frustration, to think his family of farmers, is close to saying aloha to the Aina.

Yamashiro said, "In 1942, my grandfather started this. and then...”  Yamashiro’s voice trailed off.

Without some additional federal or state relief, he said he may have no choice.

The state has begun a relocating Nene from the Kauai airport to remote areas of the Big Island and Maui.  Yamashiro said he thinks some of the Nene on his land have been pushed from the national park because of a growing problem with vog from the nearby volcano.

Yamashiro said some of the birds are banded, and some are not.

He believes the success of the recovery efforts to save the endangered Hawaiian goose should not be at the expense of the state's agricultural industry.

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