Snakehead Hoopla Just a Memory
Anne Arundel Pond Sits Forsaken Two Years Later
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 23, 2004; Page C04
The battlefield has been deserted.
One flip-flop dangles facedown in the dark water. A hairless tennis ball bobs nearby. Ominous clues? No one is around to say. Under the trees at the edge of the Crofton pond where the sinister snakehead first reared its ugly maw, an eerie silence now reigns.
"Kikikikikikikikiki!" an unseen bird suddenly shrieks. Something from the grassy bank slips into the water with a plop and disappears. A swallow darts in the distance. A frog ribbits.
No fishermen cast from the lush foliage into the lily pads. No television helicopters thwop-thwop above. The killing is over. The enemy is gone.
Two years ago, local angler Joe Gillespie pulled a northern snakehead from this pond behind the Dunkin' Donuts along Route 3 in Anne Arundel County, setting off a media scrum, a nationwide importation ban and migraines for environmental authorities. The fish, imported from China, was known to devour native species, breathe air and wriggle across land. By the time the state-sponsored poison campaign had run its course in the pond, six adult snakeheads had been hauled out along with more than 1,000 of their offspring.
The usual quiet has long since returned to Crofton, but as the notorious fish recently resurfaced in the Potomac River, local residents and business people offered some recollections from their summer of snakeheads.
When the fish was caught, Sebastian Kim had only a year under his belt as co-owner of the R&V Wine & Spirits shop in the Crofton strip mall that borders the pond. He found the national attention entertaining and even hopped on the bandwagon by selling snakehead T-shirts in the liquor store. But Kim, who arrived from Seoul in 1991, sympathizes with the snakehead and thinks its demonization a bit unjust.
"In my country, the snakehead is good. People eat it, and it's good for pregnant women," he said. "It's funny that in the United States, people think they're so harmful. Different customs."
Coming out of the Crofton post office, Tammy Morales, 42, said she still sees the occasional snakehead T-shirt in the town, but for the most part it's the stuff of memory. She enjoyed the buzz of Crofton being "the place where fish walk" and would make excuses to drive past the pond and check out the activity.
"My 10-year-old son thought it was really cool," she said.
Others in Crofton looked less kindly on the snakehead invasion.
"Oh my, I'm so sick of hearing that word," Sue Casanova, who works at the local State Farm office, said when the amphibious creature was mentioned.
Her colleague Doug Mayer, an insurance agent, recalled the inconveniences of the media coverage. He and his clients could not find parking spaces in lots that had become packed with television vans, reporters' cars and Department of Natural Resources vehicles.
"I'm glad it's over, and I hope it never comes back," Mayer said.
Helicopters droned on during the workday. Reporters kept popping into the office, including a Reuters journalist who said the story was huge in Europe.
The big names of television news filled up the Dunkin' Donuts in the morning, and locals set up roadside stands to sell merchandise. A writer from Massachusetts was captivated by Crofton's adventures and wrote a book: "Snakehead: A Fish Out of Water."
Steve Early, who led the extermination effort for the Department of Natural Resources and is still on the case in the Potomac, went on a speaking tour to tell the tale.
William Berkshire, the owner of Uncle Nicky's, a restaurant near the pond, keeps baby snakeheads -- dead ones -- in a pickle jar on his desk as a memento.
His daughters, Chris Ramsey and Erin Berkshire, started a merchandise company called Snakehead Stuff. Though the Web site is down now, Berkshire said, he expects it to be back online soon with new snakehead jewelry and updated shirts marking all the locations where the fish has been caught.
"There's certainly a renewed interest," he said. "I don't think you've seen the end of them."
For Crofton, though, the moment in the snakehead spotlight seems to have passed. Now, feral cats roam the territory around the pond. The locals say no one fishes there anymore. Drivers tear along Route 3 and don't turn their heads. And in the Crofton strip mall, there's parking for everyone.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company