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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - August 9, 2002: US Proposes Ban on Snakehead Fish - 2002-08-08

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

American Interior Secretary Gale Norton has proposed a ban on importing and selling twenty-eight kinds of fish known as the snakehead. Experts say the fish is a threat to the environment because it eats other fish, plants and animals.

The snakehead fish is native to the Yangtze River in China. It has appeared in at least seven American states. It can grow to be almost one meter long. The snakehead can breathe air and can stay out of the water for as many as three days. The fish can leave the water and move across land to find food in other bodies of water.

The snakehead has a wide mouth, sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Some people say it looks like a snake’s head. The fish can swallow other large fish. It also eats small animals, including frogs, birds and mammals. Biologists say the snakehead has no known enemies.

Snakeheads are usually sold in fish markets or in pet stores in the United States. They are known for their excellent taste.

In May, a northern snakehead was discovered in a small lake in Crofton, Maryland. A local man has since admitted that he put two snakeheads into the pond two years ago. He said he had bought the fish from a market in New York City. At first, he was going to cook the fish and eat them, but he later decided not to do this.

Biologists recently caught about one-hundred baby snakeheads in the pond in Crofton. They fear that hundreds more may be in the water. If the fish escape from the pond, they could move to the Little Patuxent River, about seventy meters away. Scientists fear the fish could kill the wildlife in the river.

A group of scientists decided that the fish had to be killed before this could happen. After several tests, they decided that poisoning the pond with chemicals was the best way to kill the snakeheads.

The northern snakehead is only one of many kinds of snakeheads. But it is of most concern because it is the only kind that can survive through winters. Other species require warmer climates for survival.

Snakeheads also have been discovered in Hawaii, Florida, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But Maryland is the only state where reproduction of the species has been confirmed.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.