Dr. Walter Courtenay
Dr. Jeffrey Hill
BOCA RATON—Recent press accounts of the Asian snakehead fish ‘invading’ New York City continue to perpetuate the distorted doomsday image earlier media accounts fostered when this story first broke following the discovery of a few Northern Snakehead in a small Maryland pond in 2002.
Such stories often contain far more Hollywood-like hype than science according to a group of learned scientists in Florida who collectively have more than 100 years of professional experience working with exotic freshwater fishes. Unfortunately, accuracy has frequently been abandoned in pursuit of sensational headlines and quotations. Even the highly respected New York Times referred to snakeheads in an August 9, 2005 story as “devilish” and “nightmarish creatures from Asia,” playing off of earlier accounts, such as the Washington Post’s July 3, 2002 story that describes snakeheads as “something like killer bees that swim” and “diminutive whiskered land sharks, gobbling up every fish snack in sight.”
In reality, the name ‘snakehead’ refers to a group of 29 freshwater fishes that are native to China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, India, and parts of tropical Africa. Although snakeheads have recently been illegally introduced into several States, only two species are reproducing in the continental United States. These are the Northern Snakehead, which is reproducing in the Potomac River and a South Philadelphia pond, and the Bullseye Snakehead, which is reproducing in a southeast Florida urban canal system.
“Unfortunately, the public is reading, hearing, and seeing reports describing these fishes as ‘Frankenfish’ or the ‘fish from hell,’ said Paul Shafland, a fisheries scientist who has spent more than 30 years studying exotic fish at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Non-Native Fish Laboratory in Boca Raton. But Shafland urges the public to be skeptical about some of the things they have heard and read about these fishes, and most notably the Northern Snakehead.
According to some accounts “This alleged monster eats anything in its path, can walk on land, survive up to three days out of water, and will even attack and kill people when guarding its young!”
“That’s great story lines for Hollywood movies, but it is not accurate news” Shafland said.
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