WV officials confiscate, kill 4 snakehead

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State officials confiscate, kill snakeheads

Brian Bowling, Charleston Daily Mail <brianbowling@dailymail.com>

August 02, 2002

Some species can crawl across land, some species breed up to five times a year and at least one species will attack humans -- so it's no surprise that state wildlife officials killed the first four snakehead fish to make their way into West Virginia.

Ed Hamrick, director of the state Division of Natural Resources, said DNR confiscated the fish Wednesday from an individual who bought them from a Berkeley County pet shop.

"The pet shop owners and the individual who purchased the fish are cooperating with our officials and no charges have been filed at this time because of the continuing investigation," he said.

DNR spokesman Hoy Murphy said the agency isn't releasing the names of the pet shop owners or the fish buyer at the request of the enforcement officers. The person who answered the phone at Aquariums Unlimited at Berkeley Plaza in Martinsburg refused to comment on the seizure.

Hamrick said the officers learned the pet shop had the fish from a concerned citizen.

"We basically received a tip that these fish were present in this Berkeley county pet shop, in the aquarium," he said.

Hamrick said Virginia wildlife officials are cooperating with DNR to track down where the fish came from.

DNR officials couldn't immediately say what species of snakehead was found at the pet shop.

Indigenous to Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Africa, all 28 species of snakehead can tolerate low oxygen conditions that would kill most fish. In addition to eating other fish, snakeheads are known to eat crustaceans, frogs, smaller reptiles and sometimes birds and mammals.

"These fish are like something from a bad horror movie," U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton said in a July 23 press release in which she proposed banning the importation of snakeheads.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 16,554 live snakeheads were imported into the United States between 1997 and 2000, mostly for seafood markets and aquarium owners. Recently, two adult and about 100 juvenile northern snakeheads were discovered in Crofton, Md., and three species of snakeheads have so far been found in open waters in California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Hamrick said the state seized the four fish in Martinsburg under state regulations that allow it to regulate the importation of wildlife into the state.

"The major concern is the potential harm to the fish and wildlife that are natural to our state," he said.

With a voracious appetite, the ability to cross land and a high breeding rate, the fish pose a threat to the state's fisheries both from a recreational and economical standpoint, he said.

"We hope that with the federal ban and some vigilance on our part, we can keep them out of our waters," Hamrick said.

Writer Brian Bowling can be reached at 348-4842
 

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