Even as state biologists pulled more dead snakehead fish out of a poisoned
Crofton pond yesterday, a crabber netted another large one, very much alive,
in the Inner Harbor.
Biologists said the 22-inch carnivorous fish probably had been dumped in the
harbor from an aquarium and posed no threat to the Chesapeake Bay.
But the surprising catch prompted state and federal wildlife officials to
renew their plea to Maryland lawmakers to ban possession of the
torpedo-shaped fish from Asia.
"There's no need to panic," said federal biologist and snakehead expert
Walter Courtenay. "This is not a good thing, people dumping these fish
indiscriminately. But they can't live long in water with high salinity, and
it couldn't possibly survive a Baltimore winter."
The fish was taken first to the National Aquarium and then to the Department
of Natural Resources in Annapolis, where biologists identified it as a giant
snakehead, a different species than the ones poisoned by the state this week
It was caught near the Korean War Memorial in Canton Waterfront Park by
James Scritchfield, 35, of Baltimore, who saw the large fish struggling and
retrieved it in his dip net. It died a short time later.
"It was in distress, which leads us to believe it had been dumped within the
last 24 hours," said DNR spokesman John Surrick. "Whoever did it almost
certainly knew what they were doing."
Courtenay said the new invader is a tougher customer than the northern
snakehead, and is sold in Baltimore area pet shops.
"Of all the 28 species of snakehead, the giant has the sharpest, longest
most developed teeth," he said. "It's the one fish I know that kills more
fish than it eats. It's the one reported to have attacked and killed a
U.S. Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton is expected to approve a ban on the
importation and transportation of all 28 species of snakehead as early as
next week. But that, said a spokesman, doesn't end the problem.
"Unfortunately, that's as much as we can do," said Interior's Ken Burton.
"States like Maryland have got to take the lead on banning possession. If
they don't take action, people can keep buying them in pet stores and when
they get too big, dump them in local ponds."
"Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Arkansas have banned them," Courtenay
noted. "I don't run the politics in your state, but if I did, I would. ...
Nobody needs snakeheads."
Maryland lawmakers have declined to give fisheries officials the power to
take action against dangerous aquatic life, preferring to dole it out on a
case-by-case basis. Dumping exotic fish is prohibited in freshwater; the
penalty is a $100 fine. Dumping is not prohibited in tidal water.
DNR Secretary J. Charles Fox is expected to ask the legislature in January
to broaden the department's powers.
"With all the publicity, I can't think of any Marylander who could not know
the seriousness of releasing a snakehead in the wild," said Mike Slattery,
of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Chesapeake Bay office. "They had to
know it was something that was risky and wrong."
Also yesterday, state biologists found two more adult northern snakeheads
floating among the dead fish in Crofton, raising doubt about the presumption
that biologists had already accounted for the pair dumped in the pond two
years ago by a local man.
The most likely explanation, Courtenay said, is that the northern snakeheads
grow rapidly, perhaps as much as a foot a year, and the four dead adults
represent two generations.
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