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Chinese fish introduced to Maryland

Sunday, July 14, 2002

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Nearly 100 meat-eating fish native to China have been found in a Maryland pond where a pet owner dumped two of them in 2000, state officials said Friday amid concern that the fish will become a major threat to native species.

The northern snakehead can grow to be 3 feet long and has a voracious appetite.

The situation is of special concern to authorities because the Little Patuxent River is about 75 yards from the pond, and northern snakeheads can live three days out of water and even walk short distances on their fins in search of food.

"They can gain a foothold here and begin to proliferate in ways that would displace native organisms," said Eric Schwaab, director of the Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service.

On Thursday, agency officials caught 99 young northern snakeheads by using an electroshock method that stuns them, causing them to float to the surface of the water.

"We've said all along that if there are juveniles in there, there would be hundreds or thousands of them," agency spokesman John Surrick said Friday.

Two adult fish were released into the Crofton pond two years ago, police said Thursday. State officials discovered the presence of the species in May, when an angler caught a suspicious fish and provided a photo for identification. Since then, biologists have caught several young fish.

State officials are setting up a scientific panel to investigate the problem and come up with recommendations to remove the snakeheads from the pond.

No charges were filed against the owner of the two original fish, whom police would not identify, because the statute of limitations has expired.

"They outgrew the capability of his care, so the individual chose to release them into what he felt was a safe environment," said Capt. Mark Sanders of the Maryland Natural Resources police.


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