Preface -- Snakehead: A Fish Out of Water

Eric Jay Dolin ; Smithsonian Institute - Mail the author

Often the most unusual tales have humble beginnings. On a warm and muggy day in May 2002, two men went fishing at a small totally unremarkable pond in Crofton, Maryland, just a short drive from the nation's capital. One of them caught a fish that looked like nothing he'd ever seen. Before throwing it back, he snapped a few pictures and later shared them with state fisheries biologists. They too were puzzled, but after some sleuthing they identified the fish as a northern snakehead. It didn't belong in the wild in Crofton, or Maryland, or the United States for that matter. It was an alien, a potentially invasive species from Asia with sharp teeth, a predilection for dining ravenously on other fishes, a primitive lung, and apparently and most amazingly the ability to walk over land to a new body of water whenever the mood struck it. Should snakeheads establish themselves in Maryland, officials feared they could wreak havoc on the local ecosystem. In late June and early July, more northern snakeheads were caught in the pond. Their presence became a major event, covered internationally in newspapers and magazines, and on radio and television. With astonishing speed, the northern snakehead, variously labeled a «Frankenfish» , «killer fish» , «pit bull with fins» , «Chinese thug fish» , «x-files fish» , and the «fish from hell» , became an indisputable media superstar. But the snakeheads' days were numbered; come September they were gone, done in with poison administered by the state of Maryland.

Crofton incident book coverThe cover of the book on the Crofton fish by Eric J. Dolin.
Coverage of the snakehead story ranged from serious and thoughtful to silly and sensational. At its base lay the persistently troubling issue of invasive species and their ability to harm the environment and the economy. But that story line alone, while perhaps good for an article or two could not sustain the media frenzy that ensued. No, this fish story had everything-shadowy origins, illegal activity, misinformation, exaggerations, epic battles between man and fish, the specter of ecological doom, earnest bureaucrats, wanted posters, bounties, late night talk show hosts, early morning talk show hosts, a blue ribbon panel, poison, hilarious satire, snakehead entrepreneurs, purported links to terrorism, theme songs, culinary concoctions, medicinal connections, and most importantly a fish that pound for pound surely ranks as one of most vilified creatures on earth. Just as the summer of 2001 was called the summer of the shark, the summer of 2002 became the summer of the snakehead. This is the story of that fascinating fish and how it captured our imagination and took us all on a wild ride.

Acknowledgement and Source(s)

This is the preface of a book which appears in September 2003. The book can be ordered at as follows: Click here to order at . The author has granted the right to publish it on the org's site. The copyright of text and photos is still with the authors/photographer in full amount. We encourage the dear reader to buy the book! Show the world that there is an interest in this kind of wonderful fish.

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