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Air-breathing snakehead fish has N.Y. environmental officials on alert

April 30, 2013|By Deborah Netburn
  • A worker at the Khai Seng fish farm in Singapore displays a snakehead fish.
A worker at the Khai Seng fish farm in Singapore displays a snakehead fish. (Ed Wray / Associated Press )

The northern snakehead is an invasive predator fish that can perform all kinds of non-fish-like feats -- like breathing only air for up to four days and even using its fins to crawl across land to get to a body of water.

And this weekend, environmental officials in New York will be checking to see if any of these super-fish are lurking in Harlem Meer, a man-made lake in Central Park.

Hopefully, they won't find one.

"If we spot one, we will take it out, but there is no confirmation that there are any in there," said Rodney Rivera, a spokesman for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

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Native to China, Russia and the Koreas, the snakehead has no natural predators here in America, where it has been invading our waters.

A snakehead fish invasion in the Potomac River has Maryland's Department of Natural Resources so spooked that in the last two years it has offered prizes worth up to $200 to anglers who catch and kill at least one snakehead fish.

The fish is also found in Florida, where dozens of invasive species thrive.

Kelly Gestring, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told the Los Angeles Times that officials are no longer trying to eradicate the snakehead in southeastern Florida because it is considered to be established. Rather, they are doing their best to contain it and manage it. The good news, he said, is that the fish has not had a catastrophic impact on local species. 

The snakehead mostly feasts on other fish, but it will also snack on frogs, crayfish and aquatic insects.

If it is in fact in Harlem Meer, it was dumped there by someone, said Rivera, because there is no way in or out of that body of water. He added that a single snakehead was pulled from Harlem Meer in 2008.

The northern snakehead is not a particularly nice-looking fish, with its elongated tan body with brown splotches and big yellow eyes. And it has sharp teeth, similar to a pike or a walleye.

The fish has been called "Frankenfish" and "Fishzilla" in America, but in Singapore it is considered a delicacy, and very tasty with noodles. 

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