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DON'T GO NEAR THE WATER



Published: Thu, July 25, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: With the nation's capital already on peak alert for terrorists, reports of a nearby invasion by alien fish capable of walking on land have rattled nerves in Washington this summer. So much so that the Bush administration is expected to announce a ban on imports of the finned beasts.

And now, as if to discourage Washingtonians from fleeing westward to escape the onslaught, comes word that a huge fish named the bighead carp, which devours so much food that it squeezes out more desirable fish, threatens to invade Lake Michigan in big numbers.

And you wonder why some people never leave the beach for the water.

The first of these unsettling critters, the northern snakehead, has the head of a serpent, the scales of a fish and the teeth of a barracuda. It can gobble up other fish, then walk on its long pectoral fins to the next pond, lake or river. Some wags have wondered whether the reptilian Frankenfish, first spotted on June 30 in a Maryland pond, might reach the nation's capital and live unnoticed among similarly troublesome lawyers, lobbyists, politicians and cable TV talk show hosts.

Huge appetites

The snakehead is native to the Yangtze River region of China. Wildlife officials say two of the fish were obtained by a Maryland resident who dumped them into the pond two years ago after their appetites grew too large for his wallet.

Now Maryland officials face who-knows-how-much expense to get rid of snakeheads before the hungry fish crawl to the potential feast that awaits them only 75 yards away in the Little Patuxent River, which flows into Chesapeake Bay.

Interior Secretary Gail Norton is scheduled to ban the importation of 28 species of snakehead, which have been found in six other states. (No word on how this will be received by people in Thailand and Myanmar who reportedly believe each snakehead is a reincarnated sinner.)

The bighead carp, another Asian import, may be the more substantial threat. Right now the voracious fish, capable of growing to 100 pounds and nicknamed the "river rabbit" for its reproductive habits, lurks a few miles shy of Lake Michigan in the Illinois River. The carp escaped from Arkansas fish farms during floods of the 1990s and are poised to sweep through the Great Lakes. Their damage isn't just ecological: The carp tend to leap into boats, and have left humans with broken noses and neck injuries.

With luck, wildlife experts will figure out how to eradicate the snakehead and keep the bighead carp from advancing farther north. The nation is better off with such invaders put in a hot pan with some lemon juice and a pinch of garlic.




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