NANFA-- fed snakehead press release

Christopher Scharpf (
Wed, 24 Jul 2002 07:14:36 -0400

Office of the Secretary
Contact: John Wright 202-208-6416
For Immediate Release July 23, 2002
Ken Burton 202-208-5634


WASHINGTON - Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton today announced a
proposal to ban importation and interstate transportation of live
snakeheads, voracious fish indigenous to Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and

Norton's proposal would add the family of snakeheads, comprised of 28
species, to the Federal list of "injurious wildlife" under the Lacey Act,
which authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to list nonindigenous wild
animals deemed to be "injurious, or potentially injurious, to the health
and welfare of people as well as to the interests of agriculture, forestry,
and horticulture, or to the welfare or survival of wildlife or wildlife
resources of the United States."

"These fish are like something from a bad horror movie," said Secretary
Norton. "A number of these species can survive in the wild in freshwater
almost anywhere in the United States. They can eat virtually any small
animal in their path. They can travel across land and live out of water
for at least three days. They reproduce quickly. They have the potential
to cause enormous damage to our valuable recreational and commercial
fisheries. We simply must do everything we can to prevent them from
entering our waters, either accidentally or intentionally."

"I would like to thank the Department of Interior for taking this action
today. Across the country, nonnative species invasions pose great threat to
our natural landscape," said Eric C. Schwaab, Maryland Department of
Natural Resources Fisheries Service Director. "As you know, the presence of
northern snakeheads in Maryland has created a potentially serious and
highly visible threat to our state's freshwater fisheries. Prohibiting
the importation and transportation of these species across state lines is a
valuable step in the right direction, and for this species, may prevent
this problem from happening somewhere else. In order to better manage the
state's resources and combat the growing threat presented by invasive
species, we will need strong leadership in the form of improved science,
technical support, increased funding and effective regulatory action from
our federal partners."

Three species of the fish have been found in open waters in California,
Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and at
least two have been established as reproducing populations (Florida and
Hawaii). Thirteen States currently prohibit possession of live snakeheads;
nevertheless, there is continuing evidence of illegal activity involving
these fish even in States where they are prohibited.

The proposal is based on information collected by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, with assistance from scientists at the U.S. Geological
Survey's Florida Caribbean Science Center in Gainesville, Florida. The
agencies began conducting a risk assessment of snakehead species in 2001,
following the discovery of snakeheads in Broward County, Florida, according
to Service director Steve Williams.

"Regrettably, the information we have collected -- and certainly our recent
experience in Maryland -- indicates that snakeheads are very likely to
escape or be released into the wild and possibly become established,"
Williams said. "They will feed on native fish, amphibians, crustaceans,
birds, small reptiles, and small mammals; they are likely to compete with
our native species for food; they may spread parasites or pathogens to
native species; and they will be extremely difficult to eradicate. They
could pose a serious threat to some of our own endangered and threatened
species." Williams said there are no known limiting factors to the
potential spread of snakeheads. While some of the tropical and subtropical
species require warmer waters, the northern snakehead can survive even in
cold water.

No Federal law now prohibits the importation of snakeheads. If the
proposed rule is adopted, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Customs
inspectors will have the authority to stop and seize shipments of live
snakehead fish or their viable eggs. Those caught bringing snakeheads into
the U.S. or transporting them across State lines without a permit could
face penalties that include up to 6 months in prison and fines as high as
$5,000 for individuals or $10,000 for organizations. Under the proposal,
live snakeheads or their eggs could be imported or transported across
state lines by permit only for scientific, medical, educational, or
zoological purposes and in accordance with state laws.

Snakeheads are widely available. They are sold in live food fish markets
and some restaurants in Boston and New York, where the fish are legal.
Snakeheads have also been sold through some aquarium fish retailers via the

Almost 17,000 snakeheads, worth nearly $86,000, are known to have been
imported in the U.S. between 1997 and 2000, where they were in turn
retailed either as aquarium fish or food, primarily in restaurants or
markets. The use of snakeheads as food fish appears to be growing in the
U.S. Because snakeheads are air breathers, they can be easily shipped via
air freight, making them more readily available.

Biologists believe that the availability of the snakehead in live food fish
markets increases the probability of more releases into open water, and of
the real possibility that the snakehead could become established in
waterways stretching from Florida to the Canadian border.

The proposal will be Federal Register within a few days. Public comments
on the proposal to add the family of snakehead species to the injurious
wildlife list may be mailed to the Chief, Division of Environmental
Quality, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Suite
322, Arlington, Virginia 22201, transmitted via fax to the same address at
703-358-1800, or transmitted by e-mail to, in an ASCII
format. Comments will be accepted for 30 days from the date of

To learn more about the snakehead and other invasive species:

"Frankenfish:" The Facts <<>>

Snakehead Stories<<>>

Maryland Department of Natural Resources snakehead page:

Federal Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force page: <<>>

U.S. Geological Survey Invasives page:
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