Snakeheads, other invaders cost billions
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It was billed as a menacing monster
from faraway China. Two northern snakeheads were tossed
by their owner into a Maryland pond, where they reproduced
The problem is the air-breathing, land-walking predators
also ate with abandon, endangering native fish when they
invaded nearby waterways.
"The snakehead has the potential to preside over mass
extinctions throughout the East Coast if it gets out from
this pond," said Bob Bock of the North American Native
Fishes Association, soon after the fish was detected.
The U.S. Interior Department proposed a nationwide import
ban on live snakeheads. And Maryland wildlife officials
insisted they had no choice earlier this month but to
pump gallons of poison into the nine-acre pond where they
"We're not happy about it. We're going to see a lot
of dead fish," said Eric Schwaab of the Maryland Department
of Natural Resources before the eradication effort on
Thousands of fish died, including the voracious snakeheads.
The state will re-stock the pond with native fish in the
"We think at this point we have now captured the original
breeding pair," Schwaab said.
But killing all the snakeheads in one pond and slapping
a federal ban on importing the fish does not guarantee
the threat is over.
The day after the pond poisoning, one turned up in the
Baltimore harbor. Officials think it was purposely released
in the harbor.
And snakeheads have been spotted in six states besides
At least 17,000 snakeheads have been imported live by
Asian fish markets and pet stores since 1997.
"They are one of the ones that gets large. They're known
to get 100 centimeters plus, which amounts to over three
feet," said Patrick Donston, owner of Absolutely Fish
in Clifton, New Jersey.
The proposed penalties for importing live snakeheads
or their eggs include six months in prison and up to $10,000
in fines. But federal inspectors can't check every crate
in every port, so some snakeheads will likely slip through.
Controlling and repairing the damage from invasive species,
including the snakehead and other aquatic pests like mitten
crabs and zebra mussels, which arrive in ballast of ships,
costs the United States an estimated $10 billion a year.
Still, federal officials admit as the invaders become
established, they cannot always afford to stop them.
"There are people who question whether we should even
be concerned about trying to prevent or control them and
just embrace them," said Joe Starinchak, an invasive species
specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Therefore, "embracing the snakehead," is one the strategies
being considered "because we don't have the manpower,"
On the Crofton pond in Maryland, ground zero for the
snakehead invasion, a "no fishing" sign and poison program
are a costly, but some say inevitable, compromise.