Reuters: Snakehead fish might just be settling into US ecosystems without wrecking them

Virginia state biologist John Okinkird hauls in snakefish. Reuters Photo – G. Cameron

 Covering the environment comes with a sensible presumption that most stories will be about fights over regulations, about threats to this or that species (including humans and their health), pollution, and other unpleasantries and bad trends. Once in awhile however a reporter comes upon something that seems to be turning out better than feared. Such as, we have our bald eagles back! But what needs a turn for the better in the public image department than the northern snakehead? The big scaly immigrant, native to China, was all over the news a few years ago. It was condemned as a dreadful mischief maker and decimator of North American ecosystems. It is ugly to boot. It can crawl right out of the water and flip flop across the road if it needs to get to the other side, breathing air the whole while. Then, there's the slime…

  We would still be a lot better without them but here's a switch.

  The story reflects a good deal of initiative. Zabaraneko got herself a ride in a boat t0 go watch of a few of these undesired aliens get rounded up from the Potomac River. Well done. It has history, contemporary anecdotes on where the fish have appeared and how they are doing, and evidence that they are not all bad news. Fewer species have gone into tailspins than had been feared when these bruisers showed up. They turn out to be good eating; chefs are serving them more and more. And native species do gobble up baby snakeheads with enthusiasm.

    The story is tempered by acknowledgment that it's early in their invasion still and things might still go dreadfully wrong.

   These fish are not to be confused with the dreaded Asian carp that jump from rivers and knock some people unconscious and might get into the Great Lakes. Perhaps Zabarenko should have mentioned them. They seem as nasty as snakeheads.

  More important, to write the occasional reassuring environment story is a therapy against accusations that reporters have nothing good to say about the state of the environment and are by nature trouble makers who get too much in the way of business and ability of property owners to do with their stuff what they prefer to do.

    There is also  no evidence that Ms. Zabarenko or Reuters generally have gone soft on environmental journalism. Here are two others in its recent lineup :

By the way, the semi-good news (ie not horrible after all) concerning snakeheads also got a mention today elsewhere:

  • LA Times – Deborah Netburn: Air-breathing snakehead fish has NY environmental officials on alert ; A source in Florida  (not one that appears in Zabarenko's story) tells Ms. Netburn that the good news is that it has not had a catastrophic impact on local species there. Plus, she reports, diners in Singapore find them very tasty with noodles.

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