WARDENS: VORACIOUS TROPICAL FISH NO PET
News staff writer
Several Birmingham area pet-shop owners are facing fines for selling a
meat-eating tropical fish.
Snakehead are legal in some states but the Alabama Department of
Conservation and Natural Resources bans them. The department got tips about
the illegal shipments this fall, said acting enforcement chief Allan
State conservation officers last month traced the import of 200 snakehead,
one piranha and a venomous snake, according to Andress. He said the fish
were sold in small shipments to 24 pet stores and individuals across the
state, including seven stores in the Birmingham area, which he would not
The snakehead genus Channa is an Asiatic fish that eats live prey, can
breathe air, and will leap from its tank. They are sold as juveniles,
looking like common minnows, but can grow to several feet. Many buyers like
to watch them eat live prey, including other fish, mice, crustaceans, or any
small animal dropped into the tank.
But the gluttonous fish pose a serious threat if dumped in Alabama waters,
according to Nick Nichols, the Conservation Department's assistant chief of
"The fish is an old species, like a mudfish, with modified gills that allow
it to take in air and live for long periods when ponds or stream beds dry
up," he said. "As long as it stays moist and warm, it'll survive."
Several species of the snakehead have recently taken hold in Florida waters,
The Birmingham stores that received the fish were identified by orders
placed with Atlanta pet wholesaler Sun Pet Ltd., Andress said.
The owners of Hueytown Pet and Supply, Ed's Pet World, Friends and Company
Pets and Feeds, Pets and Things, Lovable Pet Center, and Vonne's Varmints
all acknowledged that conservation wardens visited them. Only Pets and
Things had snakehead in stock when the wardens arrived.
Charlie Rauccio, owner of Pets and Things, said the warden confiscated three
fish and threatened to fine him $300 for each, plus five others he had sold
earlier. Along with the fish, the warden also confiscated a common box
turtle, which a customer had just brought in to sell, he said.
Rauccio and other store owners say Alabama wildlife regulations are
ever-changing and copies of the latest bans are hard to come by. Rauccio
said the only information he has comes from a game and fish handbook he
purchased at Wal-Mart.
Raymond Love, of Lovable Pet Center, said he'd never seen an official list
of regulations in 45 years of the pet business. "We depend on our
distributors to keep current with the law," he said.
Kathy Jones, owner of Hueytown Pet and Supply, said the fish don't warrant
the crackdown. Ms. Jones sold no snakehead this year, but ordered four in
2000, she said. She ordered two for a customer whose fish eventually jumped
out of the tank. The customer never returned for two replacements, which
also jumped to their deaths.
"They're not a pretty fish," Ms. Jones said. "I'm not sure what the
To snakehead enthusiasts, the attraction is the voracious appetite, not the
looks. Internet message boards devoted to snakehead ownership boast of the
fish eating 48 medium goldfish a day, not to mention frogs, rodents, bass
and a one-inch screw (spat out later).
One man wrote about a destructive jag by his 32-inch snakehead while he was
moving his aquarium:
"He trashed my friend's house one night while they were in bed. He jumped
out and turned over chairs and even ripped down some curtains. He even
knocked down some plastic shelving. Their dad was in from out of town and he
thought someone had broken in."
A Seattle man wrote about having two of the fish when he lived in Hawaii:
"I'm currently looking to buy one but it's illegal here. I fed mine almost
anything that was alive. They loved mice and other small stuff like that.
They were about a foot and half when I let them go."
That's exactly what Alabama conservation officials don't want to happen
here. "Return them to the pet store for a refund," Andress said. "Or just
pop them in the freezer."
Some good fish folklore anyway.
Anybody else's fish ever trash their house?
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