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Illegal fishponds to be closed; no permits sought before construction

Tilapia fish are abundant in the five ponds created alongside the Upper Delaware River.

By Fritz Mayer
August 17, 2011

A blue heron was trapped in monofilament line that had been strung across the pond to prevent it and other birds from eating the teaming tilapia fish in the water below. Exhausted, the big bird struggled to lift its head out of the water to take a breath then let its head drop back below the surface.

That’s the scene fishing guide Stefan Spoerri came upon on August 7. With another guide and a client at the site, Spoerri was able to cut loose a kingfisher, which was also trapped in the line. Later, a blue heron was rescued, but Spoerri didn’t know if it was the same one he saw. With other dead birds on the ground, he speculated that there must be a pile of them somewhere nearby.

The five ponds were created by Lewes Wu, but without first seeking any permits from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Wendy Rosenbach, a spokeswoman for the agency, said there were several permits that would be needed for an operation like this.

She said, for example, “He didn’t have coverage under the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit, which is required if you disturb more than an acre of land, and that’s a water quality issue.” She said Wu excavated material for the ponds without applying for a mining permit, and while he may have received an exemption, he still needed to inform the DEC of the work.

Also, she said, “He didn’t have any inland fisheries permit for bringing in fish. You have to have fish tested now if you bring them in from somewhere else to make sure they don’t have some kind of virus. So he didn’t have permits for anything he was doing. I’m not sure if we would have permitted it; it would have taken some review because of the location near the river.”

Rosenbach added that when they received pictures of the monofilament lines above the ponds they instructed Wu that he had to remove the lines that day.

Wu was given until August 15 to remove the fish. According to Don Hamilton of the National Park Service, the fish were still there as of that date, but the DEC planned to be at the site on August 17 and hoped to meet with Wu, who has been given until August 31 to completely restore the site.

Rosenbach said Wu and the owners of the property had been cooperating in the matter. Attempts to reach Wu were unsuccessful.