- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

In the same Crofton, Md., pond thought to be home to only a couple of adult northern snakehead fish a few weeks ago, biologists have since caught 99 more juvenile "Frankenfish," confirming fears the invasive species has reproduced at an alarming rate.

"We wouldn't be surprised if there were hundreds or even thousands more," said John Surrick, a Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokesman.

Officials were scouring the drainage pond behind the Route 3 Shopping Center yesterday, this time setting traps instead of using nets and the electroshock method they used the previous day.

On Thursday, officials announced that the snakehead fish, native to China, were purchased in New York by an unidentified person who released them into the pond when they had grown to be about a foot long, too large to remain in a home aquarium.

It is not clear whether the 18-inch and 26-inch snakeheads found weeks ago are the same ones thrown into the pond, or if even larger snakeheads are still in there.

"We have found only juvenile fish," Mr. Surrick said. "We can't say with certainty there aren't more larger fish."

Because of the rarity of the fish with sharp teeth, an ability to move on land and live out of water for up to three days and grow up to 40 inches and 15 pounds little is known about their growth or mating habits. The sex of the two fish released into the pond has not been revealed.

However, specialists believe the fish grow about 12 inches a year, Mr. Surrick said, and have a survival rate of 80 percent.

Juvenile snakeheads cannot travel as far as their elders; they can only slither about 7 inches, staying upright using their fins.

So far, no adult snakeheads are known to have invaded two adjacent ponds or the Patuxent River, about 75 yards away. If the northern snakeheads infest a larger fishery such as the Patuxent River, their voracious appetites could have a devastating effect on the fish population.

The area around the Crofton pond has been closed to the public guarded by two police officers and ringed by bright orange plastic fencing. Still, dozens of eager would-be anglers flock to the pond, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the "Frankenfish."

A panel of scientists, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services officials and other specialists is expected to convene in the next few weeks to discuss possible strategies for handling the alien fish invasion. Donald Boesch, the president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, will head the panel.


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