Tuesday, August 09, 2005

ENV: More Northern Snakeheads

Voracious Snakehead Fish Discovered in a Queens Lake
By ANTHONY DePALMA, August 9, 2005, The New York Times


New York welcomes all, as the big green lady in the harbor says, no matter how poor, how tired, how hungry or how wretched. But Lady Liberty never mentioned anything about ugly, or freaky, or downright devilish, and even she might have a hard time getting at all gushy about some of the most recent immigrants to the city.

They are snakehead fish, the nightmarish creatures from Asia that made news when they were discovered living in a Maryland pond in 2002. They were said to be able to breathe air and walk on their fins, devouring everything in their path.

Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton called them "something from a bad horror movie" before ordering a federal ban. And to guarantee that they could not escape, the whole Maryland pond was poisoned.

Last month, biologists with New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation were doing a routine sampling of the fish in the brackish water at Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens when, to their horror, they found a northern snakehead fish, then another and another until they had five, including one monster 28 inches long.

"At that point," said James J. Gilmore Jr., a biologist who is regional supervisor of natural resources at the state agency's New York City office, "we knew we had a problem."

To confirm that the fish were snakeheads, Mr. Gilmore sent photographs to the United States Geological Survey office in Gainesville, Fla., which is mission control for the national crusade to eradicate snakeheads.

"As soon as I saw the pictures, I said, 'Oh no, not again,' " said Walter R. Courtenay Jr., a fisheries biologist with the Geological Survey who has tracked down snakeheads in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

His message to New York: Get rid of them.

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