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Time running out for Maryland snakehead fish

Date: 05-Sep-02
Country: USA
Author: Tom Doggett

Wildlife officials will yesterday apply a final batch of poison to the pond where the landcrawling predators have kept the media enthralled during a long, hot summer.

Snakeheads grow up to three feet (1 metre) and can slither across land for several days in search of prey. Native to China, they have a voracious appetite - eating other fish, frogs, small birds and even their own young.

The snakeheads were dumped into a pond at Crofton, near Washington, by a resident who bought them from a New York market to make soup for a sick relative. The relative got better, but the greedy fish had become too expensive to feed.

In their new habitat, they reproduced quickly and 100 baby snakeheads have been found.

To the surprise of state officials, no snakeheads have died over the past two weeks since they started dumping herbicides into the pond to kill plant life cut off oxygen.

But the first dose of the poison Rotenone yesterday should make the so-called "frankenfish" float to the top within a few hours, a spokeswoman for Maryland's Department of Natural Resources said this week.

"We expected some mortality from the herbicides. However, we haven't seen any dead fish yet. We're still confident that the Rotenone will knock them out," the spokeswoman said.

Officials will then rake the pond and cart the dead fish to a local landfill.

A fence has been built to prevent any last-minute escape by the snakeheads. Maryland wants to kill them before they spread to other waters and destroy native fish. The Little Patuxent River is about 250 feet (75 metres) from the snakehead pond, which is located next to a shopping center.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an advocacy group which normally leads the fight on animal protection issues, doesn't like the snakeheads either and agrees they must be killed.

Still, the snakeheads have attracted a cult following. Their fate has been closely tracked by newspapers and broadcasters around the world since local fishermen reeled two of them out of the small pond early in the summer.

A website sells related souvenirs at http://www.snakeheadstuff.com. Recipes for Chinese watercress or vegetable soup with snakehead fish and Vietnamese barbecue snakehead can be found at http://www.snakeheads.org.

The U.S. federal government plans to ban the import and trade of snakeheads, which Interior Secretary Gale Norton described as "something from a bad horror movie."

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