Ken Burton 202-208-5657
Importation or interstate transportation of 28 species of live snakehead fish or their eggs will become illegal in the United States Friday, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes the ban official with publication of a final rule in the Federal Register.
Publication of the final rule was the last step in a process that began July 23 when Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced that the Service planned to invoke a provision of the Lacey Act, which allows the Secretary to add a species to the list of injurious wildlife if it is deemed Ainjurious, or potentially injurious, to the health and welfare of people,@ as well as to agriculture, forestry, horticulture or to wildlife or wildlife resources of the United States.
Four species of snakeheads have been found in California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, although only Florida, Hawaii and Maryland are known to have reproducing populations. Discovery of the fish in the other four states date as far back as 1968 and in most cases, involved a single fish.
Nearly 100 juvenile northern snakeheads were found in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, in July, after an angler snagged an adult fish and reported his find to State wildlife officials. Two snakeheads, one male and one female, had apparently been dumped in the pond by their owner. The pond is not fed by a stream, nor does it empty into any tributary, but the fish caused alarm because it is able to survive out of water for up to three days and can, under ideal conditions, move across land from one body of water to another.
Service Director Steve Williams said some species of snakehead are Avoracious eating machines that can devour anything in their path. When they run out of other fish, amphibians or even small mammals, they will cannibalize their own. Snakeheads have the ability to dramatically alter almost any ecosystem.@
Some species of snakehead are prized as a food fish in other parts of the world and have been shipped to ethnic markets and restaurants in the United States, although some snakehead have also gone to pet stores.
Individuals who owned the fish prior to the injurious wildlife listing in states where possession is legal, are prohibited from transporting the fish or their eggs across States lines. Approximately 16 of the 50 states prohibit possession of the fish.
Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors at U.S. ports of entry who discover snakeheads or their eggs will require the shipments to be returned to the originating country, or the shipments will be destroyed at the owner=s expense.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.