August 3, 2005

NY authorities battle intruding snakehead fish

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The snakehead fish, a voracious
predator from Asia, has taken up residence in a lake in New
York, and experts are mulling options, including salt and
poison, to evict it.

Snakeheads, which can grow to about three feet long, have
the capacity to ravage the local fish population.

This is the first time these fish have surfaced in New York
State and environmentalists are racing against the clock to
prevent them multiplying in lakes and rivers, as has occurred
in some other U.S. states.

Experts are unsure whether the fish are breeding but want
to stop them before they do.

The snakehead was found at Meadow Lake in the New York
borough of Queens. "We know there are more in there. We have
captured five (in July) and we saw another four or five
adults," Jim Gilmore, of the Department of Environmental
Conservation's New York City office, said on Wednesday.

While individual snakeheads can be netted, the most
sweeping option to eradicate them is to poison the lake, as was
done in Maryland several years ago.

But first, state environmental agency planners may try to
flood the lake with sea water, hoping to kill off the
snakeheads and some other fish that also have a low tolerance
for salt, but sparing other species.

"They don't do very well in salt water. One possibility is
to increase the salinity of the lake," said Gilmore. "That can
have a chronic effect and they just succumb over time," he

Unscrupulous dumping of snakeheads in lakes and rivers by
aquariums and restaurants, which keep the fish live, has spread
them to waters in at least nine U.S. states -- California.
Florida, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Hawaii,
Rhode Island and now New York, fishery biologists say.

Diners in its native Asia and in restaurants in the United
States savor the snakehead as a delicacy. But environmentalists
view the scary looking, all-devouring fish as an unwelcome
arrival in U.S. ponds and rivers.

"I don't know of anything they won't eat," said Walter
Courtenay, a research fishery biologist with the U.S.
Geological Survey in Gainesville, Florida.

That could be devastating if these creatures -- which can
live out of water for a short period and cross small stretches
of land -- slither into fisheries, U.S. experts warn.

"If an angler catches a snakehead, by all means they should
kill it; not return it to the water and certainly not move it
elsewhere," Courtenay said.