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GLIN==> Snakehead netted in the Great Lakes - Chicago Lake Michigan Harbor

 Posted on Thu, Oct. 14, 2004                                               
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 'Frankenfish' fear spreads to Midwest                                      
 A northern snakehead found in Lake Michigan                                
 BY DENNIS LIEN                                                             
 Pioneer Press                                                              
 A northern snakehead, the invasive fish that's become established in the   
 Potomac River and threatens that region's aquatic ecosystem, apparently    
 has been netted in a Chicago harbor of Lake Michigan.                      
 While there's no indication other snakeheads are in the harbor, scientists 
 fear their potential impact on Midwestern lakes and rivers, including      
 those in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The fish can survive several days out of 
 water if kept wet, and they can be impossible to eradicate. Its damage     
 potential is so unnerving, the creature is sometimes called "Frankenfish." 
 "I'm hoping ? I've got my fingers crossed ? that this is the only northern 
 snakehead in Lake Michigan,'' said Walter Courtenay Jr., a research        
 fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an expert on         
 northern snakeheads.                                                       
 Courtenay said a fish that Matthew Philbin of Tinley Park, Ill., said he   
 netted in Burnham Harbor Saturday is definitely a northern snakehead.      
 Philbin took several pictures of the fish and posted the images on a local 
 fishing Web site to find out what it was. Courtenay, based in Gainesville, 
 Fla., eventually saw those images.                                         
 Philbin said Wednesday he has contacted the Illinois Department of Natural 
 Resources and was told it would pick up the fish Thursday. "It's in a      
 bucket in my garage freezer at the moment,'' Philbin said.                 
 A spokesman for the Illinois DNR said the agency is anxious to see the     
 fish and to determine whether it is a northern snakehead.                  
 "If this turns out to be one, we are going to have to figure out what to   
 do next,'' the Illinois DNR's Joe Bauer said. "It would not be good at     
 Natives of China, Russia and Korea, northern snakeheads are voracious      
 predators that can grow to 3 feet long. Two years ago, a pair was          
 discovered in a pond in Crofton, Md., along with thousands of young. The   
 pond was poisoned to kill the fish.                                        
 But this summer, anglers have caught 19 adult snakeheads in the Potomac    
 and its tributaries. Recently, a baby snakehead was caught, proving the    
 fish are breeding in the river.                                            
 Scientists said that meant the snakehead will be nearly impossible to      
 eradicate, even threatening the Potomac's plentiful bass population.       
 Juvenile snakeheads eat zooplankton and small crustaceans and adults eat   
 other fishes, crustaceans, frogs, small reptiles, and sometimes small      
 birds and mammals.                                                         
 A reproducing population of northern snakeheads also has been found in a   
 Philadelphia pond that flows into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers.      
 The fish are believed to have been imported here as food for the Asian     
 market and then dumped.                                                    
 Philbin said he netted the snakehead while fishing for salmon at Burnham   
 Harbor, which is near downtown Chicago and is connected to Lake Michigan.  
 He said he was on a wall that surrounds the harbor when he saw the fish.   
 "I was 7 or 8 feet above the water when this fish swam up toward the wall  
 where I was fishing,'' Philbin said. "I honestly thought it was a northern 
 pike. ? I was curious to see it, so I netted it. If it had been a northern 
 pike, I would have put it back. But once I got it on shore, that's clearly 
 not what it was.''                                                         
 Philbin said he thought immediately that the fish looked "really bizarre'' 
 but added he'd never heard of a northern snakehead. He brought it home,    
 took pictures of it and posted the images on a fishing Web site. He got    
 plenty of feedback.                                                        
 "I said, 'Check out this fish. What is it?' It got the attention of a lot  
 of people.''                                                               
 Courtenay said the fish, which is about 18 inches long, probably is about  
 3 years old. While it's possible it's the only snakehead in the harbor, he 
 conceded that may not be the case.                                         
 "Based on past history, the probability of finding another is pretty       
 high,'' Courtenay said. "But I hope I am wrong.''                          
 SNAKEHEAD AT A GLANCE                                                      
 Identification: Maximum size exceeds 33 inches. Females release 1,300 to   
 15,000 eggs each spawn, which can occur up to five times a year. An        
 obligate air breather, it can live in oxygen-depleted waters by gulping    
 air at the water's surface and can survive several days out of water if    
 kept wet.                                                                  
 Native range: China, Russia, and Korea.                                    
 Habitat: Prefers stagnant shallow ponds, swamps and slow streams with mud  
 or vegetated substrate, and can endure cold temperatures.                  
 Why they are bad: They displace native fish species and devour other fish, 
 crustaceans, frogs and small reptiles.                                     
 Dennis Lien can be reached at dlien@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5588.      
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