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Warnings to be posted about snakehead fish

Signs to be along Potomac after one was caught

By Allison Klein

Sun Staff

May 14, 2004

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State officials plan to announce today that they're posting emergency northern snakehead fish warning signs along the Potomac River after a fisherman caught one of the toothy fish this week.

The 12-inch snakehead was caught on the Maryland side of the Potomac in Charles County, and officials with the state Department of Natural Resources hope the signs will persuade fishermen who catch others to kill them and then report the findings to authorities.

Officials from the DNR's fisheries service have scheduled a news conference for early this morning to announce the signs, saying that they need to find out how many of the Asian fish are in the region to assess their danger to the ecosystem.

The snakehead was found in Marshall Hall, a small town across the Potomac from the Mount Vernon mansion.

"This was an emergency, 'drop everything; get the signs made up today' move," said Steve Early, assistant director of the DNR's fisheries service. "I don't know what the threat level is, but I'm certainly more concerned. Capturing another one close to the last one begins to make you uncomfortable."

The snakehead found Wednesday is an immature female hatched last year, according to DNR officials. It is about the same size as the one caught by an angler May 7 in Little Hunting Creek, a Virginia tributary just across the river.

Snakeheads, sometimes called "Frankenfish," are known for their sharp teeth, voracious appetites and for "walking" on land.

"They are considered highly invasive with the potential to quickly affect native ecosystems," a DNR news release reads. "Once established, eradication of invasive species may be impossible."

Early said his department made up hundreds of signs yesterday, and plans to post them in Prince George's and Charles counties in Maryland, and Fairfax and Prince William counties in Virginia.

He said he wants to enlist the help of area fishermen to keep tabs on the fish.

It is important to alert anglers now to look out for the fish, he said, because the snakeheads appear "eager to take a lure."

"We need to take advantage of that while we can," Early said.

DNR officials drained Pine Lake in Wheaton last month after a fisherman found a snakehead there April 26. They refilled it and returned the lake's 3,000 fish after finding no trace of snakeheads.

Two years ago, state officials poisoned three small ponds in Crofton after a pair of snakeheads was found.