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Scientist Helps Solve Riddle of 'Snakehead Fish'
The "Frankenfish" plaguing the Crofton area of Maryland, the United States, might be a variety snakehead widely found in China's major waterways, a Chinese ichthyologist said Friday.

Zhang Chunguang, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the only ways to minimize damage to the local food chain caused by the carnivorous snakehead are drainage and fishing.

"Judging from the reports and pictures provided by the Washington Post, the 'northern snakehead fish' looks very much like the Chinese snakeheads," he said.

They both have a gap-toothed maw, are able to hoist themselves on to land and limp along on their strong pectoral fins to new waters, he said.

In China, the snakehead, also known as mullet, is renowned for its strong survival skills.

They can survive in swamps and continue to breathe without water for hours, leading to Chinese folktale beliefs that they can live for 100 years.

Zhang said that mature snakeheads are good jumpers and Chinese breeders have to raise their ponds at least 50 centimeters (20 inches) from the water level to prevent them escaping.

Considering the fish's reproduction period lasted from May to June, and that the warm, wet climate of Maryland is ideal for them, hang said that large-scale reproduction is possible.

In China, people tend to catch snakeheads either by draining ponds or fishing.

Although fishing may cause the least damage to other water life Zhang said it is not easy.

The best fishing tackle has to include frogs or minnows as bait, a fish hook longer than three centimeters (1 inch), nylon thread with a diameter of 0.5 millimeters, a fishing rod measuring at least five meters (16 feet) and a line as short as two or three meters (6.6 to 10 feet), he suggested.

Snakeheads are prized for their flavor and alleged curative effects on a dozen diseases, including acute nephritis, and many Chinese purchased them as gifts.

Given the natural snakehead resources had dwindled over the past 30 years in China, large-scale artificial breeding is flourishing in many provinces such as Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Anhui to meet the market demand both at home and abroad.

(Xinhua News Agency July 26, 2002)

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