Port Orange residents Irene and Bill Beck began rescuing koi fish eight years ago when they built their garden ponds.
When one thinks of philanthropic causes to save animals, rescue shelters for dogs, cats, horses, or exotic species may come to mind.
But not rescues for fish. There are, however, rescue centers for fish, especially goldfish and koi, a Japanese variation of carp — and they are not as far as some may believe.
Port Orange residents Irene and Bill Beck began rescuing koi eight years ago when they started building their first garden ponds. When Bill Beck was working one day, he listened as WELE 1380 The CAT radio host Big John talked about koi fish and how wonderful they were. Out of curiosity, Bill Beck contacted Big John, who responded back to him.
Big John told him that he was right around the corner from the “king of koi,” Joe White. Bill Beck then got in touch with White, who helped the couple make changes to their ponds to accommodate their first koi fish at their home.
The Becks' koi are rescues from the Florida East Coast Koi and Pond Club. Club members find homes for koi that have been abandoned when people move. Often individuals who competitively show koi will also re-home their former champions to make room for new koi fish.
The man in charge of koi rescue is now in Palm Coast. He asks questions about the pond a person has, and gauges if the fish will be going to a good home, Beck said.
“He gets a gut feeling whether somebody’s buying [koi] to take them to habitats like we have, or to be sure they’re not going to go to someone’s dining room table," Bill Beck said.
While koi fish adoptions are free, donations to the club are accepted to help offset the cost of providing bags to place koi to transport, pump in oxygen and provide food while in a holding facility. Koi in the holding facility are checked to be sure they are healthy, with no bacteria or parasites that could infect other fish before they are re-homed.
The Becks keep the koi for their own enjoyment. Koi have become so popular, however, that there are clubs across the world who organize shows to compete for the best and most beautiful fish. One of the largest shows in the country is the Central Florida Koi and Goldfish Show held in Orlando each year.
Keeping koi in ponds carries risk. Predators such as heron, raccoons and river otters find the fish to be tasty treats. The critters have devised ingenious ways of getting to the fish.
One evening, the Becks koi were obliterated by river otters who devoured them. The Becks had placed a mesh netting tightly over the pond to keep the otters out but to no avail. The otters figured out a way to get to the koi without disturbing the netting. How the critters were able to do that remains a mystery.
As a result, the Becks have placed an electrified fence around their ponds which has proven to be an efficient way to keep the otters at bay and the fish safe.
“We live in a jungle,” Bill Beck said. “I can’t blame the otters.”
“The club came through for us,” Irene Beck said. “When people found out what had happened, they donated fish to try to hep build up our pond.”
Through the years, the Becks have donated some of their koi to the koi club and the Estate on the Halifax, a popular wedding venue in Port Orange. Hurricane Matthew destroyed their koi when the salt water flooded their ponds and destroyed the fish.
“We have them for our own enjoyment,” Bill Beck said. “We enjoy listening to the sound of the water out back, watching the fish and feeding them a couple of times during the day.”
For those interested in gathering more information about koi rescue and garden ponds, the local club can be contacted at www.floridakoi.org
This story was updated on July 9 at 4:49 p.m. to correct the Florida Koi and Garden Club web address.