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Great Lakes Article:

Snakehead scare over for now
Fish considered dangerous to Great Lakes waterways
By Jonathan Malavolti
Capital News Service
Published November 2nd, 2004

LANSING -- After a northern snakehead was caught in Chicago's Burnham Harbor, Michigan officials began planning to counter a potential invasion of the voracious fish.

"We're always working on different rapid response plans and different scenarios that would hopefully be applicable to multiple species," said Thomas Goniea, a fisheries biologist with the state's aquatic species and regulatory affairs unit in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Action must be taken quickly to prevent a species like the northern snakehead from taking over an ecosystem such as the Great Lakes, Goniea said.

"It's a top predator," he said. "There's nothing above it on the food chain, so once it's in, it won't have anything that will eat it and lower its population."

The northern snakehead is dangerous to Michigan's waterways because the fish can withstand cold temperatures and move across land. While most fish are restricted to one pond or lake, the northern snakehead can wiggle its way over land for short distances and survive out of water for three to four days, according to Goniea.

"It can pretty much move throughout the state," he said.

Once the fish has established itself in an ecosystem and begins to breed, eradication of the species may be impossible.

Mark Gaden, the communications officer for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, said when the northern snakehead was identified, there were fears in Michigan that it would reach Lake Michigan via its Burnham Harbor access point.

"There was immediate intensive monitoring because we don't want it reproducing," Gaden said.

An extensive survey in the harbor revealed that the captured fish was an isolated intruder.

"That was a relief," Gaden said. "It was probably put in there intentionally by someone who had it as a pet."

Gaden said there is legislation pending to prohibit the transportation and possession of the fish, which is native to eastern Asia. He also said there is a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, that would require a strict screening process and stop the sale and spread of dangerous and illegal fish such as the snakehead.

There have been outbreaks of the snakehead across the country, most recently in Maryland.

Identifying characteristics of the fish include an extended anal fin and tan-and-brown stripe pattern. The DNR advises anglers not to return such a fish to water after catching it, but to call the nearest DNR operations service center.

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