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Asian ‘frankenfish’ returns to Maryland waters

Maryland state workers plan to drain a lake after the discovery of the same voracious, “walking” fish that two years ago prompted them to poison a smaller body of water, officials said on Thursday.
This Northern snakehead was caught by a fisherman at a lake in Wheaton, Md.Leslie E. Kossoff / AP
/ Source: news services

Authorities plan to drain a Maryland lake after an angler caught a Northern snakehead, the same voracious nonnative fish that infested a pond only miles away in 2002.

In what some locals are calling the "return of the frankenfish," state officials said the 19-inch fish was pulled out of Pine Lake in Wheaton Regional Park Monday afternoon. An Asian species, it can wriggle on land for short distances and eats so many smaller fish it can destroy an ecosystem.

The lake north of Washington feeds a tributary of the Anacostia River, which empties into the Potomac River.

State biologists used electric shocks Tuesday to try to get a rise out of any other snakeheads, but none appeared. Wire mesh was placed over a pipe that leads out of the lake to prevent any others from escaping. Draining of the lake could begin as early as Thursday, officials said.

The caught fish is believed to be about 4 years old, but how long it was in the lake, how it got there and whether it is male or female is not known, said Steve Early, assistant fisheries director for the Department of Natural Resources.

Early said the state does not foresee a serious environmental threat, because only one snakehead was found and it’s not spawning season for the fish.

The snakehead was most likely dumped into the lake by its owner, Early said.

Normally at home in the rivers and lakes of Asia where they are a delicacy, snakeheads found their way to Maryland several years ago when a local resident bought the fish from a live seafood market in New York to make soup for a sick relative.

The soup was never made and the man dumped the fish into the Crofton pond, where they bred rapidly. About 100 baby snakeheads were later found in the pond. Crofton is about 20 miles from Wheaton.

More than 1,000 juvenile snakeheads and six adults were recovered when state officials poisoned the pond and two others to keep the fish from spreading.

That episode prompted the state to pass a law allowing the state to inspect private properties for invasive species and take action to contain them.

In 2002, the Department of the Interior banned the import of 28 species of snakehead, including the Northern variety, according to a spokesman.

Females lay as many as 15,000 eggs up to five times per year. Those eggs hatch as little as 28 hours later.