- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

The snakehead fish have been eradicated from a Crofton pond, but a prominent area resident continues his efforts to profit from the international hype caused by the exotic predator.
Bill Berkshire, a developer who owns the Crofton County Club, now has a Web site that sells T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and other merchandise with snakehead logos. He has also applied to patent "frankenfish" and "snakehead" and has plans to produce a walking snakehead toy and a wall-mounted frankenfish replica.
"It's still a phenomenon," said Mr. Berkshire, who estimates that he and his two daughters, who run the daily business, have sold about 5,000 snakehead shirts and made about $12,000.
Protecting the business is also a daily effort for Mr. Berkshire, who has threatened legal action against anybody bold enough to infringe on his enterprise. He also said that he "discouraged" four or five people who tried to profit from the snakehead hoopla in the summer.
"They agreed with us and let it go," Mr. Berkshire said.
But not everybody is receptive to such methods.
"There's a whole history of run-ins with this guy," said Joe Gillespie, the Crofton resident who caught the first adult snakehead fish in May.
Mr. Berkshire has annoyed neighbors since the late 1990s with his repeated but unsuccessful attempts to build a large casino hotel and family sports amusement complex on his property next to Route 3. The plan has drawn loud public protest because it would violate a 1988 agreement in which Mr. Berkshire, 59, was prohibited from building on the property.
"He's always either got a lawyer behind him or in front of him," Mr. Gillespie added. "It seems like he's a wealthy guy. He doesn't need to go pushing people around."
The fish caused a national stir last summer when a fisherman caught an adult specimen in the 4-acre pond. A voracious predator native to China, the fish can travel over land by breathing air and slithering on its fins. There was also concern that it would reach a nearby river and spread into an ecosystem where it has no natural enemies. That fear escalated when a second adult and a number of juvenile fish were found in the pond.
State crews were so concerned that they poisoned the entire pond, returning later to find only a bullfrog, said Heather Lynch, a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) spokeswoman.
Mr. Berkshire tried making a profit at the height of the scare by printing 500 snakehead shirts and selling them at the Crofton pond, close to where he owns two smaller ponds.
One of the shirts was designed by Steve Koorey, a banker and fellow Crofton resident who started selling his own T-shirts near the pond. However, he said, Mr. Berkshire wanted him to "curtail the number of shirts" he produced and sold.
"He [also] indicated he might take a more hard-line approach," said Mr. Koorey, who has tried to research whether Mr. Berkshire could sue him if the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approves the trademark.
"He claims he could, and I just don't know," Mr. Koorey said. "It was not worth me putting out a couple bucks and making a couple of dollars to have a formal lawsuit against me."
So Mr. Koorey sold his T-shirts and the rights to his design to Mr. Berkshire. Mr. Koorey says that he is satisfied with the deal and that he has a "good relationship" with Mr. Berkshire.
Mr. Berkshire also called Crofton taxidermist John Kemp and told him he couldn't produce and sell plastic casts of the fish, which were ordered by DNR. The agency wanted them for educational purposes, and one of the reproductions was going to be sent to the Smithsonian Institution.
Mr. Kemp informed the DNR of Mr. Berkshire's call and was assured by agency officials that he could proceed with production of the replica fish.
"It seems unlikely that someone could patent a living creature," said DNR spokesman John Surrick.
Still, Mr. Berkshire already is working on snakehead snack foods, candy, a sandwich and a Maryland scratch-off lottery ticket named after the fish. He also has pitched a documentary to the Discovery Channel and envisions a snakehead character on the popular children's cartoon, "Spongebob Squarepants."
Mr. Berkshire said that the snakehead "will hold a place in the hearts of all naturalists, and certainly anyone from the Crofton area, for a long time."


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