New York Authorities Battle Intruding Snakehead Fish
NEW YORK The snakehead fish, a voracious predator from Asia, has taken up residence in a lake in New York, and experts are mulling options, including salt and poison, to evict it.
Snakeheads, which can grow to about three feet long , have the capacity to ravage the local fish population.
This is the first time these fish have surfaced in New York State and environmentalists are racing against the clock to prevent them multiplying in lakes and rivers, as has occurred in some other U.S. states.
Experts are unsure whether the fish are breeding but want to stop them before they do.
The snakehead was found at Meadow Lake in the New York borough of Queens. "We know there are more in there. We have captured five (in July) and we saw another four or five adults," Jim Gilmore, of the Department of Environmental Conservation's New York City office, said Wednesday.
While individual snakeheads can be netted, the most sweeping option to eradicate them is to poison the lake, as was done in Maryland several years ago.
But first, state environmental agency planners may try to flood the lake with sea water, hoping to kill off the snakeheads and some other fish that also have a low tolerance for salt, but sparing other species.
"They don't do very well in salt water. One possibility is to increase the salinity of the lake," said Gilmore. "That can have a chronic effect and they just succumb over time," he added.
Unscrupulous dumping of snakeheads in lakes and rivers by aquariums and restaurants, which keep the fish live, has spread them to waters in at least nine U.S. states -- California. Florida, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Rhode Island and now New York, fishery biologists say.
Diners in its native Asia and in restaurants in the United States savor the snakehead as a delicacy. But environmentalists view the scary looking, all-devouring fish as an unwelcome arrival in U.S. ponds and rivers.
"I don't know of anything they won't eat," said Walter Courtenay, a research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, Florida.
That could be devastating if these creatures -- which can live out of water for a short period and cross small stretches of land -- slither into fisheries, U.S. experts warn.
"If an angler catches a snakehead, by all means they should kill it; not return it to the water and certainly not move it elsewhere," Courtenay said.