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'Frankenfish' Caught in Great Lakes


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By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The dreaded Northern Snakehead, a voracious predator dubbed the "Frankenfish" that can breathe out of water and wriggle across land, has invaded the Great Lakes, authorities said on Friday.

Scientists with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources identified the 18-inch-long (46-cm-long), sharp-toothed fish netted over the weekend in a harbor near Chicago's downtown by a fisherman, who put it in his freezer and posted a photograph of the creature on the Internet.

A native of China, the Northern Snakehead was first discovered in 2002 breeding in East Coast ponds -- one of which was poisoned and another drained -- and has since been spotted in the Potomac River in Virginia, in Florida and in other places -- but not, until now, in the Great Lakes.

"These things are voracious feeders. They're a very aggressive fish," said Mike Conlin of the Department of Natural Resources. "We hope it's a stray, dumped there by somebody who got tired of feeding it."

Teams will use electric cables in the harbor to shock fish to the surface to look for more of the species, which can survive the cold Midwest winter and eats other fish, frogs and even birds and mammals. If it breeds, it could devour game fish and devastate the lakes' multibillion-dollar fishing industry.

The Great Lakes, the world's largest body of fresh water, has long been plagued by invasive species, with the latest being the Zebra Mussel, the Round Goby and the Sea Lamprey.

Earlier this week, authorities announced plans to erect an electrified, underwater barrier in the waterway connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River watershed to try to stave off the northerly advance of the Asian Carp, a huge fish that gobbles up vital phytoplankton. The carp, which escaped flooded fish farms along the Mississippi, is within 50 miles of Lake Michigan.

Alarmed Asian Carp have been known to leap from the water and knock out people in boats.

The electrified barrier will be adjacent to one erected a few years ago, designed to keep the Round Goby from migrating from Lake Michigan into the Mississippi River watershed, but the effort came too late.

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