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'Fish from hell' invades North America
Call it a freshwater Jaws. The northern snakehead is a fish as long as your arm with a head like a snake and the jaws of a piranha. It can eat its way through a pond full of fish, then get up and "walk" on its fins to the next unsuspecting body of water.
It can grow to more than seven kilograms, breeds rapidly and can survive more than three days out of water -- living through icy winters in low-oxygen waters or burrowed in mud. What's more, it has no known predators. It eats anything that moves. The voracious fish is native to China, but now it's in North America. Wildlife experts are worried it could survive in Canada.
Biologists believe that a nasty-looking saw-tooth fish caught recently and released by an angler in a pond behind a shopping mall in suburban Crofton, Maryland, is a snakehead. Based on three snapshots taken by the angler, state and federal biologists became so worried they sandbagged the pond, which sits in the floodplain of the Little Patuxent River, which leads to a wetland preserve. One biologist even suggested dumping poison in the pond -- better to kill everything than let the snakehead get away, said Walter Courtenay, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey in Florida.
Mr. Courtenay says the fish "has the capability to become established throughout most of the United States and southern Canada."
"It sounds like the fish from hell," said Cameron Mack director of Fish and Wildlife branch for Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources.
Snakeheads have also been caught in Florida, Massachusetts and California. Because of the threat it poses to local habitats, 13 states have banned the snakehead, but American authorities say it's been sold in Texas, and New York markets.
The fish has been imported to North America for the past 30 years. It has been sold as an aquarium fish and as a delicacy to Asian markets. In the Maryland case, there is some suspicion that the fish caught in the pond may be linked to a pet store in a local strip mall that went bankrupt.
The fish is not readily available in Ottawa's main fish markets or pet stores.
Mr. Mack hadn't heard of sightings in Canada, but said it was likely the fish could survive in Ontario and could wreak the same sort of havoc in Canadian waters as zebra mussels or sea lampreys. "There are already some species in Maryland and Ontario that we share," Mr. Mack explained. "Invasive species in general are a big concern," he said.
The Great Lakes Fisheries Commission reports that some 136 exotic species have been introduced into the Great Lakes since the 1800s, and about 10 per cent of those species have had a "devastating impact" on the ecosystem.
* Sat, 6/29/2002
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