December 16, 2005
Too many permanent aliens on one plate!
To the left of the headline about the elections in Iraq, the Philadelphia Inquirer's readers are treated to a scary headline -- "It's in the river: The dreaded snakehead" -- accompanied by a photo and an article about the latest alien invasion. (Yes, we're still allowed to use the word "alien" when speaking about non-human invaders.)
With so many snakeheads on the loose, officials have decided simply to educate the public about what havoc the fish can wreak.Cute, wiggly goldfish?
Whatever happened to the good old days of fraternity goldfish-swallowing contests? Nowadays, even religious goldfish swallowing is frowned upon. What has happened to our culture of predatory ambition?
While I cannot share the Inquirer's snakehead picture because it's not online, I did find a better one more in keeping with the spirit of an alien invasion.
According to the experts, these fish, which have been found all over the country now, have been brought here for years for food and for the aquarium trade:
During routine sampling of Meadow Lake earlier this month, DEC staff found three snakehead fish. In response to the initial collection of these exotic fish, DEC conducted more intensive sampling and collected a fourth northern snakehead. The identification of the fish as northern snakeheads have been confirmed by fisheries scientists with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.Because of their aggressive and indestructible nature, they've even been called "pit bulls with fins," while paleoclimatologists claim that that summer precipitation aids their migration:
“Killer fish,” “Frankenfish,” or “pit bull with fins” are terms that are given to snakehead fishes (Channidae) by the public, because of the predatory lifestyle and the high migration potential of this air-breeding fish. In summer 2002, snakeheads became a media superstar in the United States. Treated as an invasive, non-indigenous fish group in North America, it was feared that they seriously harm native ecosystems. An unexpected contribution to paleoclimatology gives the fossil record of snakeheads, reaching back to 50 Ma. The study shows that snakeheads are sensitive indicators of summer precipitation maxima in subtropical and temperate regions and occur regularly if the wettest month exceeds 150 mm precipitation and 20 °C mean temperature. The analysis of 515 fossil freshwater fish deposits of the past 50 m.y. from Africa and Eurasia shows two continental-scale migration events from the snakeheads’ center of origin in the south Himalayan region, which can be related to changes in the Northern Hemisphere circulation pattern. The first migration at ca. 17.5 Ma into western and central Eurasia may have been caused by a northward shift of the Intertropical Convergence Zone that brought western Eurasia under the influence of trade winds that produced a zonal and meridional precipitation gradient in Europe. During the second migration, between 8 and 4 Ma into Africa and East Asia, snakeheads reached their present-day distribution. This migration could have been related to the intensification of the Asian monsoon that brought summer precipitation to their migratory pathways in East Africa–Arabia and East Asia.Hmmmm......
If the snakehead population spreads, maybe Global Warming can be blamed.
Meanwhile, I think we can expect to see more hard, um, hitting, law enforcement action like this:
Wildlife Inspector Michael Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, inspected the shipment to find three open boxes containing fish he thought were “unusual looking.” When he asked the driver what they were, his reply was that they were snakeheads that had been pond raised in China and shipped without water to Canada, adding this was the first time his employer had made such a shipment. Upon examining one box, Williams noticed the fish moved and, on further investigation, found that most were alive and some “capable of vigorous movement.” Williams informed the driver that possession of live snakeheads was in violation of Washington State regulations. The driver was asked to kill the fish and began striking them with a board. Williams notified the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and, after returning to the truck, found that the fish were still alive despite the drivers attempt to kill them. He seized the 80 fish at noon and placed them in a freezer. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife authorities arrived about 12:30 and removed the fish from the freezer. Most were still alive. State authorities took possession of the fish to proceed with penalties against the companies involved (Mike Williams, personal commun., 2003). The shipping invoice listed the fish as “Fresh Snakehead Fish-Product of China.” The fish were subsequently identified as northern snakeheads.Beating and freezing these poor fish? Where are the animal rights activists when we need them?
And why are we so much harder on piscine aliens than on the human variety? I mean, normally whiny environmentalist types are advocating brutal Gestapo tactics which would make those to the right of the Minutemen blush.
Is it because the fish can't be rounded up and deported? Or is it because they're unable to assimilate? According to the Inquirer, once they're established, the snakeheads' presence is permanent:
Absent the predators that keep the snakehead population in check in Asia, fisheries officials fear their numbers will blossom. The newcomers - which may be up to two feet long - could wolf down entire populations of indigenous fish, permanently changing streamlife.I'd be a little hesitant to use the term "permanent," especially if we factor in things like geologic time. Usually, the word "permanent" doesn't mean permanent in the eternal sense -- it just means for the duration of the lives of the people using the word. Besides, by all accounts the fish are highly edible (they're even raised for food in fish farms), and I see no reason why that might not cause them to be overfished in the same way as any other fish population. As things stand, there's no limit or season on them, and as the Inquirer points out, recipes abound.
Nice fish here:
Much as I detest anthropomorphism, I had been planning some sort of analogy to the human invasions.
However, even though I hate double standards, I think I'm heading towards, um, bad taste with my analogy, so I'd better stop or I'll have to eat my words.
posted by Eric on 12.16.05 at 07:49 AM
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