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Fish has a grip on our attention

Headlines about snakehead just keep on hooking us in

By Shelia Jackson and Faith Hayden

Sun Staff

August 5, 2002

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Houseguests are like fish, the old saying goes: After three days, they start to stink.

Apparently, the American media has never had a houseguest like the amazing eco-invader from China, the northern snakehead fish. The big fish in the small pond in Crofton has merited more fish wrap, er, newsprint, it seems, than any run-of-the-mill corporate scandal.

"The fish from hell" has been spotted in media outlets across the country. Recently, it fin-walked its way into hallowed publishing grounds: The New Yorker. For its Aug. 5 issue, a reporter purchased a snakehead to see just how far and fast it could move on land. What's next: snakehead bobble-heads?

Now the state is poised, perhaps sometime this week, to poison the pond that gave birth to this summer celebrity. So before it's gone for good, here's a sampling of the snakehead's press clippings from the past month.

July 7, The New York Times: Political columnist Maureen Dowd weighs in: "It's a delicacy in China, but then, what yucky thing isn't?"

July 13, New York Daily News: A story about how the snakehead traveled from New York to Maryland offered up an interesting way to deal with the problem. The paper asked Dr. Paul Loiselle, fish curator at the Brooklyn Aquarium, what to do about the fish. The doctor's advice: "Dynamite the pond."

"This is not funny, not funny at all," said Loiselle, a consultant to the government of Madagascar, the Indian Ocean island whose environment has been ruined by snakeheads. "It's not my idea of a particularly nice fish," Loiselle said. "If they get into the river, it's Katie bar the door, you'll never get rid of them."

July 14, Associated Press: "No snakehead invasion yet in Alabama." That was the headline for an AP report that in November, conservation officers tracked down 200 snakeheads being sold at 24 Alabama pet stores. The fish were confiscated, but as officers astutely pointed out, there is no way to know what happened to any other fish. Someone ought to call Madagascar.

July 24, The Providence-Journal Bulletin: While announcing a ban on the importation of snakeheads, Interior Secretary Gale Norton comments: "These fish are like something from a bad horror movie."

July 27, The Washington Post: Headline: "Freakish Fish Feared in Md.: Carnivore Moves on Land, Can Survive 4 Days Without Water." Says Bob Lunsford, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: "It's the baddest bunny in the bush."

July 29, Associated Press: Headline: "Singaporeans say snakehead fish not vicious, but delicious." Advice from fish breeder Koh Boon Haw about the snakehead: Simply cook them up with green apples and ginger, sit down and enjoy.

July 31, Chicago Tribune: Alderman Jesse Granato of Chicago is so worried about the possibility that the snakehead may end up walking around Chicago that he plans to introduce an ordinance banning the sale of the snakehead fish, which he's affectionately nicknamed Chamuco - "Satan" in Spanish.

July 31, The Onion.com: An "infographic" on the humor publication's Web site offers these "facts" about the fish: "Gets real ornery after drinking tequila"; "Can change color to perfectly mimic dinnerware patterns"; "Hunts down cars with 'I'd rather be fishin' ' bumper stickers"; "Recently inked deal with mosquitoes to spread West Nile virus."

Today, Time magazine: The backlash begins. "When it comes to the northern snakehead ... the story may be even harder to kill than the fish," a Time report begins. "Federal breathlessness notwithstanding, plenty of fish experts are wondering what all the fuss is about. Is it the snakehead that's out of control or simply the hype? Dangerous? Not according to Hawaii biologist Ron Weidenbach. "Snakeheads are extremely lazy and sedentary."