Invasive "Walking" Fish Found Across U.S. South

Bob Dart
Cox News Service
July 24, 2002

Snakeheads, the razor-toothed Asian fish that can walk on land and has attacked humans, have been reported across the southern United States, the Interior Department has warned.

The largest species of the bizarre freshwater fish, which can grow to four feet long (1.2 meters), has been found in open waters in Florida. In addition, illegal live snakeheads have been confiscated in Texas, Alabama, and Kentucky and are being sold over the Internet, the agency said.

"These fish are like something from a bad horror movie," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "They eat virtually any small animal in their path. They can travel across land and live out of water for at least three days. They reproduce quickly."

The Bush administration is seeking to ban the importation and interstate transportation of live snakeheads, which are eaten as a delicacy in Asia. Possession of the voracious fish is already outlawed in 13 states, including Georgia, Florida, and Texas.

Some species grow to be as big as a golf bag, and snakeheads guard their young ferociously. The Interior Department said there are reports from Asia of snakeheads attacking and in some instances killing people who approached a mass of their young.

"They have the potential to cause enormous damage to our valuable recreational and commercial fisheries," warned Norton. "We must do everything we can to prevent them from entering our waters, either accidentally or intentionally."

"Serious Threat"

Snakeheads have no natural predators in the United States and can cross land to reach new aquatic habitats, so it is vital to keep them from breeding here, Norton warned. "Once established, they are nearly impossible to eradicate," she said.

Meanwhile, they can wipe out the surrounding animal life.

"They will feed on native fish, amphibians, crustaceans, birds, small reptiles, and small mammals," said Steve Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "They could impose a serious threat to some of our own endangered and threatened species."

Asked about importing some of the snakehead's natural predators from Asia, Williams said that "generally speaking, we don't want to go down that road." The predator may be an "injurious wildlife" on its own, he explained. Crocodiles, for example, eat large snakeheads.

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