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Great Lakes Article:

New war cry: Let's get snakehead
Chicago Sun Times
Published October 27th, 2004

I pegged them as out-of-towners. Kirby Redman and his son Ben watched intently as the electroshocking boat worked through Burnham Harbor on Friday.

Redman, an optometrist from Minocqua, Wis., brought Ben to check out the Illinois College of Optometry on the 3400 block of South Michigan Avenue. Being hardy, they hiked the several miles back to the Loop via the lakefront.

There's magic in Lake Michigan. It tugs on people as surely and powerfully as the moon pulls the tides. The lake works magically enough to influence decisions as big as what college to attend.

So when the lake is threatened by an exotic like a snakehead, officials go into justifiable spasms. Matt Philbin of Tinley Park reported netting a snakehead in the northeast corner of Burnham on Oct. 9.

Since then, it has been a pending international incident. Tom Trudeau, head of the Lake Michigan Program for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, has received offers of assistance from every related federal agency: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Last week, Field Museum biologist Phil Willink and Corps ichthyologist Frank Veraldi set trap nets and gill nets to see if more snakeheads could be found. None were. On Friday, the IDNR and the Corps brought in three electroshocking boats to sweep the harbor. Again, no snakeheads.

As IDNR biologists Steve Robillard and Dan Makauskas swept the west side of Burnham, many browns and chinooks floated up. During electroshocking, stunned fish float to the surface. Redman asked what they were looking for. "Snakeheads,'' I said. "They look something like bowfin.''

"I caught the world-record bowfin,'' Redman said. "Oh, boy,'' I thought, "another fish story.''

But, indeed, he owns the line-class (10-pound) record for a 12-pound, 6-ounce bowfin caught from Squirrel Lake in Wisconsin on May 8, 1999, according to the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. Redman was walleye fishing when he caught the bowfin. His guide, Michael Bowen, happened to guess it might be a world record, otherwise Redman would have shaken the bowfin off as an unwanted species.

It's funny how we value certain species. And how species add or subtract value to water. Walleye, bass and panfish, good. Bowfin, so-so. Snakeheads, bad.

Biologists found plenty of good species on Friday: bluegill, green sunfish, pumpkinseed, largemouth bass, rock bass, yellow perch, chinook salmon, coho salmon and brown trout.

And one so-so species, gizzard shad. And a couple of bad ones: round gobies and a 25-inch sea lamprey Willink pulled off a chinook. Lampreys were an early Great Lakes exotic, reaching Lake Michigan by 1936. Lampreys so decimated native lake trout that the species survives only through stocking.

Friday ended the intensive governmental effort to find more snakeheads in Burnham for this fall. Through the winter, biologists will depend on fishermen. In the spring, more sampling will be done.

Snakeheads hang shallow. If another one is found, it will likely be caught by those ice fishing shallow weeds for panfish, not anglers working for perch in deeper water.

The welcome mat is not out.

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