- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton will announce a proposal today to place 28 species of snakehead on the injurious species list, prohibiting interstate importation and transportation of the nonnative, predatorial fish.
Such a move "would make it totally illegal" to import or transport the invasive species between states, said Interior Department spokesman John Wright. The proposal is intended to help prevent incidents like the one in Crofton, where an individual dumped two snakeheads purchased in New York into the 9-acre drainage pond behind the Route 3 Shopping Center two years ago. The "Frankenfish" have since spawned, creating a stir among biologists and media alike.
Under the Lacey Act amendments of 1981, anyone found importing or transporting injurious mammals, birds, fish or reptiles without a special permit could be fined a maximum of $500 and imprisoned up to six months. An injurious species is one that could injure human beings, agricultural interests, horticulture, forestry or other wildlife. The snakehead would join walking catfish, mitten crabs, zebra mussels and salmonid fish, other aquatic species banned under the Lacey Act.
Mr. Wright said the public will have 30 days to respond to the proposal for the injurious species list before the new regulations take effect.
The northern snakehead is only one of many species of snakeheads but is of most concern because it is the only species that can survive through winters in Maryland. The others require tropical climates for survival, said John Surrick, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Other states, including Florida, Massachusetts and Texas, also have reported sightings of northern snakeheads, but Maryland is the only state where reproduction of the species has been confirmed.
A team of 15 scientists in Annapolis on Friday recommended that the northern snakehead population, believed to be in the hundreds, be eradicated from the Crofton pond using rotenone. This poison is made from plant roots and enters through the gills of a fish, disrupting its oxygen flow. Mr. Surrick said rotenone will be tested on juvenile snakeheads captured in the pond today. He said the panel should complete its report by the end of the week.
The northern snakehead with sharp teeth, a voracious appetite and the ability to use its long dorsal fins to move on land and live out of water for several days has garnered headlines around the world since its discovery in May. Biologists say the nonnative fish has no known predators, could deplete the local fishery and could have substantial ecological effects if it makes its way into the Little Patuxent River, about 75 yards from the pond.
Biologists initially tried using electroshock methods temporarily stunning the fish and causing them to float to the pond's surface but heavy vegetation and a concern that the juvenile fish could number in the thousands forced officials to seek other solutions. The scientific panel also considered leaving the pond untouched, draining it or using other chemicals. Most panelists supported using the rotenone poison, although Mr. Surrick said the decision was not final.
Mr. Surrick would not say whether the pond's noninvasive fish supply would be replenished if the pond is poisoned.
"Once we make a decision, we'll go from there," he said.
One of the Crofton pond's owners, Danny MacQuilliam, refused to comment on the rotenone recommendation.
Jim Beers, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, said the pond should have been poisoned the instant the first snakehead was discovered.
"I was absolutely flabbergasted they didn't do it immediately," Mr. Beers said. "This shocking and netting was absolutely silly. They hesitated and, frankly, lost a lot of time."
Mr. Beers also said the snakehead should have been on the injurious species list from the beginning.
"If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the federal government were doing their jobs, they would be looking at things like this across the world," he said. "They should not be letting these things in."


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