'Frankenfish' in Burnaby waters
A northern snakehead. (QMI AGENCY)
It's known as 'Frankenfish.' It can grow up to a metre long. It's a top-level predator that has wiped out native species in U.S. lakes. It can creep over land to other bodies of water, eating small animals as it travels.
It's a snakehead fish and B.C. environmentalists hope they can capture the one a Burnaby man says he saw and videotaped Sunday in Central Park waters - before it's too late.
"Of all the invasive species I might be worried about for B.C., the snakehead would make the top-10 list," said Matthias Herborg, an aquatic invasive species expert with the B.C. Ministry of Environment.
Herborg said if the fish turns out to be a northern snakehead and begins breeding and spreading to other water sources, it would be "another nail in the coffin for our native species."
A large voracious predator, the snakehead fish is an eco-nightmare, reproducing at a terrifying rate. The female lays up to 15,000 eggs at once - up to five times a year. And northern snakeheads would be sturdy enough to survive in B.C. waters, according to Herborg.
Just as disturbing, snakeheads are completely legal to purchase in B.C. Experts suspect the fish was either a pet that grew too big for its fish tank and was released at the pond, or a live-food specimen someone dumped in the lagoon.
"They're aggressive. They're big. They'd probably snatch up those ducklings pretty quick," said former fish store retailer Mitchell Wentzell, pointing to an unsuspecting duck family paddling serenely on the pond. "You hear of this kind of thing more and more. In Florida, you hear pythons there are invading (areas). It's becoming a huge problem."
Snakeheads are a growing problem in the United States, and are permanently established in the Potomac River along the Atlantic coast. They haven't become established in Canada yet, Herborg said.
The City of Burnaby alerted the ministry to investigate after video footage posted online showed what appears to be a snakehead in Central Park waters.
Rod Gonzales said he filmed the fish at the park's lower pond Sunday afternoon while feeding fish with his three-year-old son.
"At first I didn't know what it was and as I zoomed in, I realized it was a snakehead," Gonzales said.
Herborg said a government team would conduct some sampling probably next week. To find the fish, they will likely use techniques such as netting, trapping or electro-fishing - stunning the fish so they float to the surface but later come to again.
The city has already placed mesh over the pond's outflow to prevent the fish from swimming downstream.
"Eventually the water does flow into the Fraser but regional fishery staff reckon, at least at the moment, it's unlikely the fish could get through because it's very narrow, shallow and dry," Herborg said.
But can't it crawl over land?
"Fish need a reason to do that," he said. "At the moment, whatever's in there has a lot of gold fish and baby koi to munch on."
But Herborg said there was no concern for the public or pets.
"A larger one might eat a duckling but it's not a crocodile. It's still just a fish."