But even the invasive Chesapeake Bay snakehead can be prettied up by an extreme makeover, as a recent charity event featuring Washington Redskins legend John Riggins showed. The downside for the fish: It was dead — and sliced, marinated in a tasty chimichurri sauce, skewered, baked, then arranged on a nice white dinner plate with a sweet potato chorizo flauta.
The presentation had to be just right because, to the event’s organizers at least, the future of the bay was riding on that fish plate. The point of the second annual ProFish Invasive Species Benefit Dinner at Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place in Georgetown’s Washington Harbour was to persuade humans — Earth’s top predators — to develop a taste for the bay’s most fearsome fish.
Five main courses were prepared by what organizers described as “elite, high-end, white table cloth” chefs from restaurants such as the Hotel Monaco’s Poste Moderne Brasserie, the Rockfish in Annapolis and J&G Steakhouse at the W Hotel, near the White House.
Before it was served about 8:30, Rockfish chef Chad Wells’s snakehead dish was the talk of the evening among about 200 people who paid $125 a plate to dine with Riggins, a celebrity guest.
Not all the talk was positive. “I don’t like snakes, and I don’t like fish,” said Nicky Safari of Tysons Corner, who appeared to be in exactly the wrong restaurant on the wrong night. “I’m here because I know they’re going to . . . make me like fish,” she said.
Wendy Moore of Herndon, seated across from Safari, was ready to eat snakehead. “My expectation is it will taste good,” she said. “It’s an aggressive fish that’s taken over some of our wildlife.”
The snakehead is nothing but problems. It devours nearly every bite-size fish in its path but has no known predator. Females are baby factories, lugging an average of 40,000 eggs, although U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists found one with a record haul of 100,000.
On top of that, snakeheads might qualify as parents of the year in the Chesapeake. Males and females, which can grow to 47 inches long and weigh 15 pounds, shepherd their young in ball-shaped schools. As a result, the bay’s fish problem keeps getting bigger.
But humans could put a stop to it. Humans, after all, nearly ate their way through the bay’s native rockfish, blue crab, shad, oysters and sturgeon before realizing the error of their ways and taking aggressive steps in the past few decades to protect marine life.
Progress turned out to be a tricky dance — one step forward, two steps back. Just as Maryland and Virginia fought harder to conserve marine animals, along came uninvited snakeheads, probably poured into a Chesapeake tributary in the early 2000s by some clueless aquarium owner.