You must eat the snakehead before it eats youThe Chesapeake Bay has a problem, and soon you will, too, unless area residents can eat a certain species of invasive fish into extinction. Ravenous local humans have come close to eating Bay oysters,
By: Dale McFeatters, Scripps Howard News Service
The Chesapeake Bay has a problem, and soon you will, too, unless area residents can eat a certain species of invasive fish into extinction.
Ravenous local humans have come close to eating Bay oysters, blue crabs, rockfish and sturgeon out of existence, but this particular species poses special problems, beginning with its name — the snakehead. These fish are as ugly as their name sounds, and while they will eat anything, not much will eat them.
Snakeheads have mouths full of nasty teeth, grow to nearly 4 feet long and 15 pounds, and proliferate like crazy. They’re native to China and Korea, but turned up in the Washington area only a few years ago when they were discovered in a Maryland pond.
If they don’t like their surroundings, they slither overland to more desirable venues, which is evidently how they wound up in the Potomac River and in the Chesapeake.
Environmentalists hope that restaurant patrons will — if not eat snakeheads out of existence — at least gnaw them down to manageable numbers. It’s proving a tough sell.
The legendary hostess Perle Mesta had a simple maxim for filling out the tables at a Washington dinner party: “Hang a lamb chop in the window.” Somehow it’s hard to believe that hanging a snakehead in the window will exert the same kind of social magic.
The other night, the snakeheads’ numerous enemies held their second annual “ProFish Invasive Species Dinner” at a popular local seafood restaurant. (Washington is the kind of town where people turn out for this sort of thing, even at $125 a plate.)
The chefs did their best to make the snakehead appear appetizing. The Washington Post’s reporter described one dish as sliced snakehead marinated in a “tasty” chimichurri sauce, skewered, baked and served with a sweet-potato chorizo flauta. The coverage included a photo of a man feeding a spoonful to his very unenthusiastic-looking date.
Selling the snakehead is going to be an uphill battle. The Chinese claim great curative powers for snakehead soup, but the Chinese brand has been rather sullied because they claim magical benefits from all sorts of disgusting food products — rhino horn, bear paws, shark fins.
American law prohibits deceptive and dishonest medicinal claims, which pretty much bars the most effective means of eliminating this unwanted fish: “A snakehead a day will make you as randy as a teenager. Rediscover the magic of adolescent hormones through the magic of snakeheads.”
Unfortunately, too many people have heard of the snakehead to make a name change effective. Fishermen couldn’t give away the Patagonian toothfish, but under the name “Chilean sea bass” it was fished almost to extinction.
Celebrity endorsements probably won’t work, either, although the fish is disgusting-looking enough to be sold as a weight-loss product. Late-night TV likely won’t work, either, just because it’s a hard product to pair with other merchandise. Twenty pounds of snakehead filets is probably not going to move a lot of reverse mortgages or motorized wheelchairs. (What? You thought young people watched TV? Robert Wagner and Sally Field were chosen to appeal to your particular demographic.)
Maybe we could enlist Michelle Obama to insist that a tasty slice of snakehead should be part of every nutritious school lunch. Or we could do it the good, old-fashioned American way and serve it to the troops and disaster victims, two groups who don’t really have a choice.
McFeatters is a Scripps Howard News Service columnist.