CLARENCE PAGE: From the moment it first broke, we knew this fish story had legs. Back in June, just outside the nation's capital, where endless strip malls meet the edge of nature, a fisherman in Crofton, Maryland, caught the state's biggest mystery since the "Blair Witch Project."
It looked like a beast, an evolutionary throwback: It had the head of a snake, the body of a fish, and lots of teeth, the better to eat its fellow fish. And this fish was made for walking and breathing air through a primitive lung. One of these days, this fish was going to walk right over to the nearby little Patuxent River and turn it into a bio enviro crisis. 20 miles down the road, sat the nation's capital, already on high alert for terrorist attacks.
When Washington got wind of this story, a new news star was born. Last year it was sharks. This year it is the walking fish-- "Frankenfish," the media called it. A generation reared on Godzilla, Mothra, and Swamp Thing wondered, "how did this superfish get here?" Was it a genetic mutation, biochemical pollution, a secret government experiment, perhaps the work of al-Qaida?
The mystery was solved. The fish was identified as a northern snakehead, an immigrant from China. A Maryland man purchased two of them, presumably male and female, in a fish market in New York's Chinatown. He kept them as pets for a while, then let them go into the pond in Crofton, where they didn't belong. The world is getting smaller, and that has consequences.
The Frankenfish speaks to the dark side of our progress. Like an urban legend come to life, it evokes a primal fear that maybe globalization is shrinking the world too much and letting in too much of what we don't want. We've seen it in Florida, where walking catfish were brought in from Asia in the 1970s, got loose, and walked away to mingle with local fish. Kudzu, the Godzilla of creeping foliage, is another native of Asia, brought in decades ago to stop soil erosion. It just grew and grew and won't stop growing. "Stand still long enough," James Dickey once wrote, "and it will grow up your leg."
Up North, so will the longhorned beetles. We've seen these little critters emigrate from Asia to make a feast of our trees in the upper Midwest. In the Great Lakes, the zebra mollusk migrated from Europe in the ballast water of ships and clogs up our pipelines. On the return trip, North American jellyfish have found a new home, clogging up ducts and drain pipes in the Black Sea. East is east and west is west and never some species should meet.
In a shrinking world, every species competes with every other, including humans. And so we fight back with an almost frightening ferocity. Government responded cautiously to the Wall Street crisis, but hastily to the snakehead. The Bush Administration took steps to ban further importation.
SPOKESPERSON: We simply must do everything we can to prevent snakeheads from entering our waters.
CLARENCE PAGE: The state of Maryland put up wanted posters. It wants the snakehead dead, even if it must poison the ponds, wipe out all the fish, and restock it with good fish, the kind that don't walk. Sounds like curtains for Mr. and Mrs. Snakehead, our big fish story of the summer. Some of us will miss these fascinating fish. They meant no harm, really. They we only doing what nature tells them to do. After all, a snakehead's got to eat, and eat, and eat. Sometimes we're told you have to destroy nature to save it. What a fine kettle of Frankenfish this is.
I'm Clarence Page.