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U.S. wants snakehead imports banned

The carnivorous snakehead can grow up to three feet long.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A meat-eating Chinese fish recently discovered in a Maryland pond should be reclassified as "injurious wildlife" to ban its importation and interstate transport, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said Tuesday.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is trying to come up with a plan to eliminate the snakehead fish from the nine-acre pond in Crofton where some have taken up residence. (Full story) The fish can survive out of water long enough to move from pond to pond, making its eradication more difficult.

"If we continue to permit their importation, there is an increasing likelihood that they will escape or be released intentionally." Norton said. "Because snakeheads can move from one body of water to another, once they are established, they are nearly impossible to eradicate."

No federal law prohibits the importation of snakeheads, but under the Lacey Act of 1900, the interior secretary can list the snakeheads as "injurious, or potentially injurious" to the "welfare or survival of wildlife or wildlife resources of the United States." That would give U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. customs inspectors the authority to seize shipments of snakehead fish and viable eggs.

Possession of snakeheads is against the law in 13 states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.

The northern snakehead fish is a meat-eater capable of living in a moist, out-of-water area for as long as three days. The species can also slowly propel itself on land with its tail fins, giving rise to the nickname "walking fish."

There is an Asian cultural belief the northern snakehead has curative powers.

Police tracking how the fish came to a pond in the town of Crofton found a man who said he dumped a pair of the fish after buying them at a market in New York.

Authorities believe one of the fish that has been captured was one of the original pair, which apparently have successfully reproduced during their time in the pond.




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