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B.C. Frankenfish: Snakehead, Invasive Predator, Caught In Pond In Metro Vancouver Park

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BURNABY, B.C. - The battle against an invasive predator known as the snakehead or Frankenfish isn't over, says B.C.'s environment minister.

Only hours after biologists netted the fish from a Burnaby, B.C., lagoon, Terry Lake vowed to change provincial regulations by the fall to ban its live importation.

"This is a voracious predator," said Lake. "It has no natural enemies in this environment. And so left unchecked, it could devastate ecosystems, and native species would really suffer."

Officials were tipped off to the snakehead's presence last month after a video was posted to YouTube and at about 11:15 a.m. Friday biologists caught one of the fish in Central Park.

Matthias Herborg, an invasive species expert with the Ministry of Environment, said officials used a small dip net to capture the snakehead, which measured two-thirds of a metre long. The lagoon where it had been living had previously been drained of much of its water.

The captured Frankenfish was strong, was writhing around, and took a while to euthanize, he said, noting the animal was big for the species.

"We're going to do some more work today just to make sure there was really only one in there," said Herborg.

To ensure the snakehead cannot be brought live into British Columbia, the government will now adjust its Controlled Alien Species Regulation to include the animal, said Lake.

The changes, which have to go through cabinet but not the legislature, will hopefully become law by the fall, he said.

Snakeheads are native to fresh water in Russia and China and have few predators when fully grown. They could pose a severe risk to B.C.'s wild salmon stocks if they reached the nearby Fraser River.

They are also capable of breathing oxygen and squirming short distances over land.

Lake said it's important that people understand that native species were at risk because of the fish, so officials had to get on top of the problem fast, adding the animal has been a danger to natural species Maryland.

"It's great that officials were able to get to this species before it was able to reproduce and establish and do any real damage," said Chris Harley, associate professor of zoology at the University of British Columbia and a native of Maryland.

"What I hope will happen from this incident is that people will just change their attitudes towards releasing live fish or other animals in places where they don't belong."

During a previous interview, Harley said the first finding of the toothy snakehead in Maryland is believed to have occurred in a lake in 2002 after a man illegally released two of the fish there.

Biologists eventually poisoned the lake, but the fish was later found elsewhere, including the Potomac River, the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States, Harley said.

"Then it's game over because you just can't (poison) the river,"he said. "It's not known whether it will take time for them to be fully established, or it's possible native species are helping to control them by eating their babies."

Harley said Friday he doesn't know how much the Burnaby operation would have cost.

While it won't be trivial, it won't compare to the economic damage the species could have cost if unchecked, a cost that could have hit millions of dollars annually.

"It's better to spend a few thousands of dollars over a week of fishing in one pond than have that recurring cost of damage to fisheries and ecosystems in the future," he said.

(The Canadian Press/News 1130/CKNW)

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