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