- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) A fisherman yesterday pulled a giant snakehead from Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the first sign of the voracious predator in the Chesapeake Bay, a state official said.

The angler, identified as James Scritchfield of Baltimore, was crabbing when he caught the snakehead in a dip net, said John Surrick, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The 22-inch fish was found floating in distress on the surface and had clearly been discarded from an aquarium, Mr. Surrick said. The fish cannot survive in salt water and does not pose a threat to the Bay, Mr. Surrick said.

“It was not doing well,” Mr. Surrick said. “It would be impossible to catch a fish like that with a dip net unless it was sick or at least stressed.”

The announcement came two days after state officials poisoned a pond in nearby Anne Arundel County to kill northern snakeheads that had been found breeding in the pond.

Mayor Martin O'Malley, who was eating crabs after a photo shoot for Esquire magazine near where the fish was caught, said the capture was “troubling.”

“I hope it's an isolated incident, and someone's idea of a bad joke,” Mr. O'Malley said. “The Bay's a sensitive enough ecosystem without someone dumping Frankenfish' in it.”

There are 28 different species of snakehead in all all of them native to Africa and Asia. Like northern snakeheads, giant snakeheads grow to about 3 feet long. Unlike northern snakeheads, giant snakeheads are native to tropical and subtropical parts of Asia and are not likely to establish a population in a climate like Maryland's, Mr. Surrick said.

Individual discarded giant snakeheads also have been found in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The state decided to eliminate the northern snakeheads from the Crofton pond out of fear what the Chinese fish might do to the ecosystem if they escaped and established a population. Northern snakeheads sit at the top of the food chain in their native Yangtze River, and would pose a threat to native fish species.

DNR officials found two more adult northern snakeheads yesterday among the dead fish in the poisoned Crofton pond a development that calls into question the presumption there was just one breeding pair in the pond.

The two snakeheads were both 21 inches long, Mr. Surrick said. The DNR already had found an 18-inch snakehead in the pond on Wednesday, and a local angler caught a 26-inch snakehead in July.

“What we know right now is we have an individual who said he put two in two years ago,” Mr. Surrick said. “Anything else is speculation at this point.”

Since the fish poison rotenone was applied in the pond on Wednesday, DNR biologists also have found more than 300 snakeheads between 3 and 5 inches long, which all seem to be the product of one hatching earlier this year.

On Thursday, they also found more than 500 younger snakeheads about an inch long the apparent product of a second hatching later this summer. Those snakeheads were found clustered together “in a relatively confined area about the size of an office,” Mr. Surrick said.

Unlike most fish, snakeheads are known to aggressively protect their eggs and young, according to Walter Courtenay of the U.S. Geological Survey's Florida Caribbean Science Center, who was a member of the panel that devised the state's eradication plan.

“All of this reinforces the wisdom of proceeding to rotenone the pond,” Mr. Surrick said.


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