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This Week’s Creature Feature ... The Northern Snakehead

This invader transforms from trick to treat

Since 2002, when the northern snakehead made its Chesapeake debut in a Crofton pond, it has been nothing but trouble. The pond was poisoned and drained. The species set up housekeeping in the Potomac and its tidal tributaries, whence it could eventually migrate to the Bay.
    After all that trickery, who’d expect the snakehead to turn into a treat?
    Yet the snakehead now is attracting fishermen, chefs, seafood marketers and gourmets.
    The transformation arose in Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Under the slogan If you can’t beat them, eat them, the Department’s Stephen Vilnit is promoting the snakehead as a star among sustainable fisheries.
    John Rorapaugh, vice president of sustainable fisheries for the regional commercial fish supplier ProFish, is an early convert.
    “The first snakehead we caught was 36 inches long and weighted 16 pounds. It was humungous,” Rorapaugh said.
    It was also, Rorapaugh reported, “very nasty and rude. It could jump clear out of a live well four feet deep.”
    Their catch was prepared by Washington chef Barton Seaver, who served invasive species to big contributors to the National Geographic Society.
    “It’s amazing how white the filet is,” said Rorapaugh, who calls them a “real treat to cook and eat.”
    Just how good a treat is snakehead?
    You’ll get my report next week. I’m eating snakehead at The Rockfish Raw Bar and Grill, where over 400 pounds of snakehead catch is being prepared by eight celebrity chefs.