Invasives Cloud the Big Picture
What a curious sort we humans are by our magnetic draw to the weird and mysterious. So the hype over the now internationally infamous snakehead fish shouldnt come as a surprise. A Department of Natural Resources biologist dubbed this insatiable predator the baddest bunny in the bush. Talk about your mixed metaphors!
The snakehead fish and its host community of Crofton have extended their 15 minutes of fame into a full hour, courtesy of CBS Evening News and The Daily Show. Look for the made-for-TV movie out in time for the winter sweeps.
In a society constantly craving the flavor of the minute, whats not to love? The fish is nasty and nasty looking. It can breath and crawl on land, and it devours all other fish. It even has a catchy nickname, an essential element if you want to hit the big-time in this country. Frankenfish. Get your T-shirt while they last.
The state has declared all-out war on snakeheads, which have now been discovered in the wild in six other states. The fisheries experts dealing with the crisis have chosen the plant-based poison rotenone to rid the Crofton pond of this demon. In fact, the Bush Administration, perhaps sensing the potential political hay to be made, has proposed an outright ban on all snakehead imports.
Far less sexy but perhaps more important to the Bays long-term health is DNRs Mute Swan Management Plan, which can be viewed on-line at www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife. A key point in the plan is that the population is estimated at greater than 4,000 birds and expanding at a fast clip. Without intervention, DNR estimates that their numbers could reach 38,500 birds by 2010. Can the Bay support such a population explosion of this non-native, invasive species? No.
These aggressive, albeit pretty, birds consume scarce underwater grasses, one of the Bays most important natural filters, at an alarming rate. Today, scientists estimate that grass acreage is around 70,000 or little more than 10 percent of what the Bay could sustain. An adult mute can consume eight pounds of grasses a day. Extrapolate that out by 4,000 swans and it may mean that as much as 12 million pounds of critical crab and fish habitat is devoured annually.
Studies prove that the density of blue crabs in vegetated areas is 30 times greater than in unvegetated areas. Think about that the next time you pay $75 a dozen for Number One Jimmies.
Not enough for you to jump on the Mute the Mute bandwagon? These birds with graceful necks and orange bills terrorize migratory tundra swans (black beaks), ducks and shorebirds, even killing young birds and destroying nesting sites. According to DNR, mute swan pairs can display an aggressive behavior that instills fear in citizens, preventing them from using their shoreline property and adjacent waters.
Mutes, like the snakeheads, dont belong in the Chesapeake watershed. The sooner these invasives are brought under control, the faster we can get back to the real work of restoring our Bay.
Fish Are Biting
Avoid the crowds and forge your own path. Breaking bluefish, rockfish and occasional Spanish mackerel can be caught on light tackle off Chesapeake Beach. Rob from Anglers reports nice frying-size spot off Hacketts Bar. Mollie Brumfield took a 22-inch rockfish on a top-water plug off Thomas Point.