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Burnaby park officials probing nasty snakehead fish sighting

METRO VANCOUVER – Burnaby park officials are investigating the reported sighting of a snakehead fish at the lagoon in Central Park.

“We haven’t actually witnessed it ourselves,” Don Hunter, assistant director of Burnaby parks, said Tuesday. Staff have contacted the ministry of the environment and a biologist to try to identify the fish supposedly sighted last weekend, he said.

A person made a recent video and posted it online with the comment: “Was at Central Park on Mother’s Day, took a walk around the lagoon to check out the carp and Koi. To my surprise I spotted a snakehead fish, a very large one.”

Snakeheads can grow up to a metre long, weigh six kilograms and a spawning female can release up to 15,000 eggs at once, mating up to five times a year.

They are voracious predators with teeth that eat other fish and small mammals.

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Michael Russello, an associate professor of biology at the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia, said it’s possible the fish could have been dumped out of a fish tank, which is what happened in the U.S.

“It’s a big problem down in the States,” Russello said. “They have a primitive lung that allows them to move across land to other water bodies,” he added.

“They’re very scary. They’re an ambush predator. They can take a small dog.”

The invasive species is a top-level predatory fish that comes from Asia and Africa.

It has been spotted in Ontario and is able to live out of water for slightly less than an hour while it slithers across land, seeking more ponds and lakes to invade.

Chris Harley, an associate professor of zoology at UBC, said he was shocked to find that snakehead fish are being sold live at the T&T market in Richmond.

“It doesn’t make sense to cater to live sales,” he said, adding it increases the risk of the invasive species being released into local waters.

He said some Buddhist temples release live seafood, in an act called “emancipation” to bring good karma.

Jonathan Moore, an assistant professor of biology at Simon Fraser University, said he would like to see a ban of live sales of snakehead fish.

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“Many states [in the U.S.] have very strict controls on live fish sales, including live bait,” he said.

If the Burnaby sighting is confirmed, he said, “it’s something to be concerned about” because once an invasive species gets established, it’s difficult to remove.