Scientists relieved they don't find
northern snakehead in Chicago harbor
By Don Babwin
Published October 19th, 2004
CHICAGO - A search Tuesday of a Chicago harbor where
a northern snakehead was caught came up empty, to the
relief of scientists who were concerned that Lake Michigan
had been invaded by a voracious fish that can devastate
"This is a good sign that we didn't catch any,"
said Philip Willink, a fish biologist with Chicago's Field
Museum who checked six traps and nets in Burnham Harbor.
"It means that maybe someone dumped one in the lake."
Pulled from the water were several Chinook salmon and
other species, including a zebra mussel and a few round
gobies - both of which are invasive species already firmly
established in the Great Lakes.
Willink said experts from the Field Museum and the Army
Corps of Engineers will continue to scour the lake at
least through the end of the week in search of the snakehead.
But, he said, the longer they go without finding the fish
the more likely that the 18-inch fish caught by an angler
recently was simply dumped out of an aquarium by someone
who got tired of feeding it and didn't want to kill it.
That a team of scientists mobilized quickly to hunt for
the fish illustrates just how devastating a northern snakehead
could be if it were to begin breeding in Lake Michigan.
An incredibly hearty fish that can breathe air, the northern
snakehead has been dubbed the "Frankenfish"
for its ability to survive in oxygen-depleted water and
wriggle for short distances over land in search of ponds
Willink said that when the fish, which are native of
China, Korea and Russia, are small they devour the food
that other native fish need to survive. Then as they grow
to more than 3 feet long, they eat other fish.
"Whatever fits in their mouth, they'll eat,"
The fish first drew attention a couple years ago when
two were discovered in a Maryland pond. It has also been
spotted in Washington, California, Texas, Alabama, Florida,
Hawaii, North Carolina, Virginia, Rhode Island, Massachusetts
and Maine. The species has also been found in the Potomac
River and its tributaries.
The northern snakehead is banned in various states and
cities around the country, including Illinois and Chicago,
which banned them two years ago after the snakehead was
found in Maryland. And nationally, it is illegal to bring
live snakeheads into the country or across state lines.