- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Can we talk a little common sense? Are you tired of hearing about the northern snakehead fish that some clever desk jockey at a newspaper dubbed "Frankenfish"? Franken, shmanken.

This Asian import doesn't have a chance in this country. I'll tell you why right after I wonder why the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that oversees all oddball critters brought into the United States hasn't put the clamps on the importation of potentially troublesome creatures. Yet every so often you hear about an aquarium owner getting rid of a nasty this and a frightful that by simply dumping it into our waters because they grew tired of feeding their growing darlings.

The media went completely ga-ga over the snakeheads that were found in a Crofton, Md., pond, as if this were the first time an unwanted fish had been turned loose in America. One breathless (probably also brainless) TV reporter said the snakehead is capable of eating baby ducks and geese. It will come up under them and eat them, the hair-sprayed talking head said.

Yeah, and what else is new?

Every predator fish in the United States will eat a duckling or gosling. In fact, there have been tackle shops in Minnesota and Wisconsin that sold surface fishing lures, with treble hooks and all, that looked like a baby duck. You'd cast it toward a weedbed where a muskellunge might live, retrieve it a couple of yards and suddenly, "Slurp!" The duck imitation was gone. So don't give us the "eats baby ducks" malarkey. Largemouth bass will eat them; so will pike, rockfish, bluefish and others all of them good old Americans.

Even our Maryland Department of Natural Resources acted like Chicken Little. Give me a break. The sky isn't falling. We have native species in our waters that will make mincemeat of a northern snakehead.

Bob Lunsford, a Maryland fisheries official and biologist who appeared on TV a number of times before his boss, Eric Schwaab, took over as the DNR's snakehead spokesman, told me, "The Northern snakehead is an amazing fish, but it also is a top-line predator. Locally it could have some effect, but they are territorial so there will never be too many in any given location."

OK, and now we also know there might be far more of them in that little pond than thought of earlier. We also know there are six different types of snakeheads, and we know they like to eat other fish.

Duh?

If the wondrously "walking" snakehead does indeed slither from its current pond in Crofton and makes it to the free-flowing waters of the nearby Patuxent River without a raccoon getting its choppers on it, let me provide a likely scenario.

The snakehead will slip into the Patuxent and head downstream, find itself in unfamiliar surroundings, then swim about in a confused state for a while. Before it can find a suitably protective lair, a rockfish might come along and wrap its lips around it. Gulp! Gone.

If that doesn't happen and it continues on its way, what do you think will occur when a river otter sees the stranger or it enters shallow enough waters (nearly 80 percent of the river is that way) and a bald eagle or an osprey spots it? Zap! It's a goner.

If the snakehead is a small specimen, perhaps the size of young fry or even older specimens up to 10 and 12 inches long, the Patuxent's largemouth bass will snatch them up like cotton candy. If not the bass, the pickerel will. In fact, I predict the bass will jump on them so quickly that some smart-aleck tackle manufacturer will come up with a fishing lure that resembles a snakehead.

This oriental character soon will wish it stayed in Asia, especially if it somehow makes it to the Potomac or Rappahannock rivers. Wait until a 30-, 40- or 50-pound blue catfish gets a glimpse of old Frankenfish. It'll wrap its jaws around it so fast the import won't know what happened.

The fact is that some of our American predator fish species are veritable Godzillas.

The native species parade includes those already mentioned above, the striper, the largemouth bass, the muskellunge and pickerel. But add also the voracious tiger-muskie that Maryland's DNR personnel didn't have a hissie-fit about when they introduced thousands of them into our waters. The tiger muskie is a lean, mean, feeding machine. It'll have a northern snakehead for breakfast and not even burp.

Then wait until a full-grown bowfin (aka grindle) or a garfish sees the invader. Gulp! Gone.

Can you recall the walking catfish that was accidentally released in Florida waters some years ago? The local wildlife folks predicted it would become an ecological disaster. Like the snakehead, it, too, could walk and live out of water for a while. Then the word got out that our dear American largemouth bass took a liking to the smaller-sized catfish, while old-fashioned American alligators, huge garfish and snapping turtles known as gator snappers took care of the bigger walking catfish. We're not saying all those foreign catfish are gone, but nobody talks about them being a curse any more.

Oddly, the biggest disaster of accidentally introduced fish species was brought about by a toothless German immigrant that rarely eats fish on occasion it might snatch a tiny minnow, but that's about it. You guessed it. It's the roly poly carp that now thrives in every river, lake and pond in the United States. The carp isn't even close to being a top-of-the-food chain predator, but all the same it's a huge nuisance.

Have you seen any television news cameras recording the damage these red-scaled fatsos have done to our waters? I haven't.


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