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Asian delicacy seeks a feast of native fish

July 09, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

Perhaps you have heard about the strange and disturbing events occurring behind a shopping center in a Crofton, Md., drainage pond.

Biologists say that three weeks ago, an angler caught a "northern snakehead," which is a fish - considered a delicacy in China and Korea - that can wipe out entire populations of native fish, then wriggle out of the water and crawl across dry land on its fins for up to four days, seeking other waters upon which to prey.

The fish can grow to up to about 3 feet in length and eats everything in sight. It can survive in most any water no matter what the quality and has experts fearful of a full-fledged northern snakehead invasion.

"The fear is: This thing could hop from the pond, across the flood plain and into the river, and then all bets are off," a biologist told The Washington Post. "It's the baddest bunny in the bush. It had no known predators in this environment, can grow up to 15 pounds, and it can get up and walk. What more do you need?"

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Well, a pregnancy test, for one thing. If it's a boy fish, we have nothing to worry about, right? And if it's a girl and it's not with fingerling - well, there aren't a lot of northern snakehead singles bars in this region that I'm aware of. So we would be OK.

Experts say there may be at least two northern snakeheads. One was recently caught, but it was a different length from the first fish, which was caught and thrown back.

I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of this great nation of ours being overrun by Chinese delicacies.

And now that I think about it, is there anything that is not considered a delicacy in Southeast Asia? It's almost become newspaper boilerplate: "...the fungus - which grows between the toes of sewer-breeding cockroaches - is considered a delicacy in Cambodia ..."

And it gets weirder. Officials believe the fish probably arrived here on a shipment from Asian waters destined for local fish markets. But they also say the northern snakehead(s) may have been "set loose as part of a religious ceremony."

Look, if you're going to eat it, eat it; if you're going to worship it, worship it; it's no concern to me. But don't let it loose where it's going to gobble up all of our A-mur-ican fishes. That crosses the line.

And how come I can't bring tulip bulbs into the country, but any old Asian fish jockey can legally import a species that could potentially wipe out the ecosystem?

Fortunately, lots of American fishermen have answered the call by showing up at the shopping center drainage pond, determined to catch the dreaded fish before it has a chance to saunter off to other waterways or go on a buying spree at Bed, Tank and Beyond.

They should have me there, tossing in a worm. Every time I go fishing I end up catching something that, frankly, I don't want to touch. Catfish, carp, eel ... pretty much a who's who of the ichthyological undesirables. I can very easily see myself reeling in a fish with the head of a snake and a couple of rows of pointy teeth.

It is important that somebody catch it, or them, because if it gets loose in the wild, you know what will happen. It always goes this way:

Somehow a load of hydrilla spores from a Tunisian pastry boat ends up in the Potomac and it grows like wildfire and threatens the "delicate environmental balance," so they import something that will eat the plants, such as a Lebanese tiger mussel and then we're overrun with tiger mussels, so they import a "natural predator" like the Siberian carp, and pretty soon you can just about walk across the river on the backs of the carp, so they have to bring in the Burmese water snake, which leads to the Malaysian aquatic mongoose, which leads to the Cantonese porcupine, which leads to the Mongolian wolverine, which leads to the Fanged Himalayan yak.

And all this over a fish. It would be simpler if Crofton would just get a cat.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or you can e-mail him at timr@herald-mail.com.

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