Wanted Dead: Voracious Walking Fish

Joe Gillespie holds aloft a 26-inch northern snakehead in Crofton, Md., Monday, July 1, 2002, that he caught Sunday with the help of his son Mark and his son's friend Jake Harkey.

It's a peaceful place, but lurking beneath the surface of an Anne Arundel County pond is something mean and ugly.
No one is sure how many of them are out there, but every one of them is wanted, not dead or alive - just dead.

"This was a good one for the X-Files," said Bob, a fisherman who declined to give his last name. "He chewed through the net where his head was.

"It's a fish that's very well adapted for what it does and what it does well is survive."

Called the northern snakehead, it's a ravenous fanged predator that threatens the survival of every fish in the same body of water. An exotic creature that can grow over three feet long and weigh up to 35 pounds. Native to Asia, it's a delicacy there. Here it's deadly and unwelcome.

"The concern is that there is more than one and that one's a male and one's a female," Bob said. "And that's the worse case, absolutely worse case, scenario."

How they got into the pond remains a mystery. Someone who bought them at a specialty fish market could have released them. Maryland is one of a handful of states that imports the snakehead, and no one is really sure how to catch them.

"This is an interesting fish that we haven't had the opportunity to deal with before, not that we wanted the opportunity," Bob said.

It's a unique challenge that has a posse of Maryland wildlife personnel scrambling to trap the fish any which way they can. People are coming up with all sorts of ideas like traps spiced with cat food, the simple rod and reel technique and when it gets cold, electroshock.

"Several people have been kind enough to send me recipes," Bob said. "I'm intrigued by the curried snakehead recipe that somebody was nice enough to send me over the e-mail."

The snakehead has a primitive lung and could actually walk out of the water and head somewhere else, leaving people here wondering if the fish has already left the pond and headed to another one nearby or even to a river in the area.

"All the advantages at this point are with the animals in this pond and not with us terrestrial critters out here," Bob said. "They've got gosh only knows how many places they can hide in here."

And they're doing a great job of that so far.