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

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The recent discovery of snakeheads in a Crofton, Maryland, pond spawned widespread media coverage about the creatures, dubbed "Frankenfish." However, it was the discovery of snakeheads in Broward County, Florida, last year that raised the initial alarm.

The Florida find pushed the Interior Department to consider adding 28 species of the fish to its list of "injurious wildlife" under the federal Lacey Act. After a 30-day comment period, the Interior Department will make it a crime to import live snakeheads or take them across state lines.

Potential Spread

Norton said the news coverage of Maryland snakeheads was a "coincidence in timing," because the Interior Department had already been planning to act.

While the northern snakeheads found in Maryland appear to have been confined to one pond, the bullseye snakeheads found in Florida were in open water with connecting canals that potentially could enable the fish to reach the Everglades. Northern snakeheads were also found in Florida in the St. Johns River in Seminole and Volusia Counties.

Interior Department officials said it is generally left to states to eradicate the snakeheads or other "injurious wildlife" within their jurisdictions.

Maryland has enlisted a panel of fish experts to determine how to kill its snakeheads, said Eric Schwaab, director of the state's Department of Natural Resources Fisheries. Most likely, he said, the agency will use herbicides to first kill the plants in and around the pond, and then pesticides to kill the snakeheads themselves. In the process, many innocent plants and fish will also die, the experts said.

Williams urged anglers to show any unusual fish that they catch to federal wildlife officials. The Maryland snakeheads were first found by a fisherman who hooked one.

Almost 17,000 snakeheads were imported into the United States between 1997 and 2000, the Interior Department reported, and at least hundreds more have come in since, the agency speculated.

Live snakeheads are sold here either as aquarium fish or, more often, as food in restaurants or fresh fish markets. The popularity of snakeheads as a food appears to be growing, the agency said. If the proposed federal rule is adopted, it would become a federal crime to import snakeheads without a license or transport them across state lines without a permit. Penalties could include up to six months in prison and $10,000 in fines.

Under the rule, live snakeheads or their eggs could be imported or transported across state lines only by permit for scientific, medical, educational, or zoological purposes.

Copyright 2002 Cox News Service

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