Snakehead Appears On Local Bride's Menu (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Snakehead Appears On Local Bride's Menu

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Our next story is about a subject that's pretty much a natural for a show about commitment, weddings. But this wedding is one for the books because of its connection with a rather terrifying looking fish and an invasive one at that. Environment reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour has the story.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:18
So I don't know if you all remember this so let's go back 10 years, almost exactly to when the snakehead came to Maryland. It's an exotic fish from Asia that someone released here.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:34
Then there was a documentary...

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:40
...and an unbelievably bad movie...

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:48
...now fast forward a decade and meet Carrie Kennedy.

MS. CARRIE KENNEDY

00:00:51
My name is Carrie Kennedy.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:52
And she's getting married.

KENNEDY

00:00:53
So we're going to have a light lunch buffet and that lunch buffet, like most weddings, is going to have chicken and fish. But the fish that we're going to have is going to be snakehead.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:02
Kennedy is a fishery scientist from Maryland's Department of Natural Resources.

KENNEDY

00:01:05
Snakehead's an invasive species here in Maryland and we want it to go away. So we're trying to create a market.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:13
And their strategy is kind of working.

MR. JOHN RORAPAUGH

00:01:15
Our biggest load so far has been 560 pounds in one day.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:18
John Rorapaugh is with PROfish, a wholesaler in Northeast D.C., he's standing over crates of iced giant snakehead.

RORAPAUGH

00:01:26
We have a couple hundred pounds that we got in yesterday and all this fish will be gone this weekend.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:31
Now, are they a monstrous looking fish? That is a yes.

RORAPAUGH

00:01:35
They have a boa constrictor-python look to them from the neck down. If you open up the mouth, it has a full row of teeth in the front on the lips and then it has bigger teeth set back into the mouth.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:47
It cannot walk on land, that was just a rumor, but they can breathe air by gulping and they can survive for long periods out of water. And are they ravenous? Yes. Check out what they found in these guys' bellies.

RORAPAUGH

00:01:59
AA batteries, mice, birds' feet, we've found turtles, baby turtles, anything that swims past them that's living, they'll eat.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:11
But guess what? They are delicious.

RORAPAUGH

00:02:16
We're actually next door. Louie's Diner is right next to our warehouse. So earlier, I brought over some snakehead fillet for him and he put a light marinade on them. So we're going to throw them on the grill and let you taste them.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:28
All right. Let's try. This is great. It's so -- it's dense, it's almost not like fish.

RORAPAUGH

00:02:36
When you bite into it, it almost feels like it falls apart because it's so tender.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:39
This fish is mostly just available in fancy restaurants right now and it's kind of pricey, plus it's called snakehead and looks like Jacques Cousteau's nightmares so it's not totally taking off yet, as delicious as it is, so it's very much still here and very much a part of the ecosystem now.

MR. JOHN ODENKIRK

00:02:55
The entire Potomac River system, including non tidal and tidal, from Great Falls all the way to Chesapeake Bay.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:01
John Odenkirk is a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. And he's standing on a boat on the Occoquan River, basically he's tasering fish.

ODENKIRK

00:03:10
So what we'll do is we'll start shocking and the generator is going to be running the whole time.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:14
He's actually surveying the fish population.

ODENKIRK

00:03:15
We're actually putting electricity current in the water, about a 1,000 volts DC. So don’t fall in.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:21
Two sets of electrodes, they look like tire size aluminum spiders, are dangling into the water ahead of the boat. The generator goes on...

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:33
...and fish fly everywhere. Glimpse of silver flash over the surface as fish of all types start spasming toward the cables.

ODENKIRK

00:03:42
Actually, as the electricity goes through the fish, it forces the fish to sort of -- in a trance. It's like zombies in a trance.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:48
And then one, two, three enormous snakeheads emerge from the depths. Odenkirk scoops them up in a 10 foot long pole net.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:01
That's awesome. When you hit them like that. They're not the easiest fish to work with either. They're kind of uncooperative. He measures the fish...

ODENKIRK

00:04:12
699...

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:13
...tags them...

ODENKIRK

00:04:16
It's got a unique number on it, it says remove tag, report location and kill fish.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:21
...and throws them back. The idea is to figure out how fast they grow and where they travel to. In a half hour, they catch 35 snakeheads, up to three feet long. Odenkirk is also catching largemouth bass.

ODENKIRK

00:04:34
So we're trying to track both populations. The contention is that if the bass population was hurting, some people making that contention because of the snakeheads presence, but it's not what we're seeing at all. This year's been a phenomenal year for bass.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:47
In fact, Odenkirk says, it looks like the snakeheads aren't turning out to be the monster people feared.

ODENKIRK

00:04:52
We still don't know. We don't have enough information to really make that call yet and we probably won't for several more years. But it does look like some of the initial hysteria was probably overstated. Not probably, it was almost surely overstated.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:05:06
The real question is how much further the population will expand, geographically and in terms of numbers.

ODENKIRK

00:05:12
If it tops out where it is now, like it seems like it might be, based on last year's data, I think it'll assimilate and not really cause a lot of damage.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:05:21
What could be a big deal, though, is if the fish gets into isolated streams or if it gets into an area where there's an endangered fish species. It has Virginia worried enough that the Common Wealth isn't ready to allow the sale of snakeheads for fear that that would encourage people to spread the fish themselves. But back in Maryland, Carrie Kennedy is trying a sample for her wedding.

KENNEDY

00:05:42
It's really good. The best thing would be if it wasn't around at all, but you know what, if you have lemons, you might as well make lemonade.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:05:49
I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

00:05:58
For photos and videos as well as recipes for snakehead and a list of places where you can order the invasive fish, check out our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:06:15
After the break, a veteran baseball player remembers his glory days in the game.

MR. ELOYD ROBINSON

00:06:20
They came to Danville in '48 for their spring training there at the park. And I went over there, you know, I thought I was pretty good. I went over there and then I made the team.

SHEIR

00:06:32
That and more, coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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