Vol. 10, No. 30

July 25-31, 2002

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Snakehead, Snakehead Sing Us Your Song

Next to terrorists and corporate criminals, no subject has consumed more newsprint of late than the discovery of the northern snakehead in a Crofton Pond.

If you don’t know about the snakehead, you’ve either been in a coma or vacationing in China (where Mr. & Mrs. Snakehead come from).

On top of blanket coverage locally, the snakehead has made national news and even showed up on the international wires we check.

We snickered at the overheated descriptions (especially on TV) that conjured up a giant, toothy creature traipsing along the byways of Anne Arundel County, eyeing small vehicles to munch on.

We were amused when a local angler outwitted the biologists in the hunt and when a reward was posted for a fish you can buy in markets.

But now that the story has ebbed (dozens of snakehead fry have been found in a now-closed pond and fisheries experts are contemplating their next step), we have concluded that the emergence of the snakehead was an important event for reasons that haven’t been clearly spelled out.

In short, the snakehead is another in a long line of invasive species, some well-known and others less so, with which people constantly battle for supremacy.

Grackles and starlings have driven away native songbirds, and mute swans are eating up Bay grasses.

Nutria, those visitors from the south, are turning Eastern Shore marshes and tidal flats into Swiss cheese with their burrowing, rodent behavior.

Oyster-killing MSX probably arrived here in the ballast of ships. Beware of those voracious, pipe-clogging zebra mussels, working inexorably our way. We’ve also been following the eastward progression of four-foot-long Asian carp, stacked like cordwood in the Upper Mississippi and knocking on the door of the Great Lakes. (The newest plan is to hold them back with underwater electrical shocks.)

Drive on our backroads and you’ll see kudzu sweeping through valleys in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties. In our precious, filtering marshes, the sea reed phragmites is crowding out many native plants in the botanical quest for nutrients.

We think it’s also appropriate to mention the varieties of genetically engineered crops that never sprouted commercially on this earth until the mid-1990s. We’re being told by the multinational companies that we’ll need them to feed the world one day, even though the consequences of pesticide-producing plants and drifting, gene-altered pollen remain largely unknown.

If the much demonized snakeheads could speak, they might point out that they’re a noble species just doing what came naturally in that Crofton pond: eating and reproducing.

And speaking of nature, they might add that they’re relatively benign compared to the most invasive species of all time.


Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly