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Non-indigenous Snakeheads

October 9, 2004

There's apparently been quite a panic about the introduction of non-indigenous snakeheads (originally from Asia) to the United States. These beautiful and impressive fish have several properties that are bothersome to many. Firstly, they're large and carnivorous; when introduced into the US, they have no natural predators. They are aggressive and one species, the Channa micropeltes, even attacks people who approach its young. Furthermore, these fish breathe air — thus can survive outside of water for hours or days — and are excellent jumping fish; thus, any specimens kept must be placed in closed aquariums which interface with the air (kept in a closed aquarium without any air, they will die). Because of the dangers these fish pose to ecosystems they're not indigenous to, they are yet another case where the State has intervened in and regulated people's affairs.

That these fish have caused so much of a panic for reasons unrelated to the ecosystem is curious. They have large teeth and can survive outside of the water — so what? So do crocodiles and alligators. It is an indisputable fact that no matter how formidable a species may be, man has mastered it and can easily master it. Examples include white sharks, crocodiles, cobras, lions, giant squid, etc

. The superior intelligence of humankind gives us an insurmountable advantage over everything else. It is curious that despite the much greater threat that virus' like HIV and prion diseases pose to us, most people are more afraid of large carnivorous animals. The fact that George Bush can blow up the Earth 10 times over again by pressing a button doesn't seem to worry most people, but a few "walking" fish with teeth cause a panic, as well as second-rate straight-to-TV movies.

In fact, these fish are interesting from a scientific point of view. It is rare that we see a group of species in a subjectively intermediary evolutionary stage. Of course, all species are evolving; however, we have mentally set various "dividers" — such as water vs. land. These fish most likely have similar characteristics to the first prehistoric fish to have started coming out of the water for brief periods of time. They can survive out of water because they have "half a lung" —a float bladder that also serves as an extra oxygen exchange medium — something which has interesting implications to the evolution / creationist debate ("What good is half a lung?"). Returning to the issue of the State's involvement in this issue, it is obvious that State-regulations are not going to solve this "problem". Indeed, the universal consideration of these fish as a "problem" is flawed. If all water and land was privately owned — as it should be — these fish may be considered beneficial by many owners of various bodies of water. Due to their natural beauty and relative intelligence for fish (they can be trained to eat out of their owner's hands), they are popular pets. They are also considered a delicacy in various parts of Asia, and have an excellent taste.

The privatization of bodies of water would also allow for more effective responses to individuals improperly disposing of these fish. They are thought to have arisen in the US due to fish-owners disposing of them in lakes and ponds when they'd outgrown their aquariums. Private owners of bodies of water would — if they didn't want these fish — consider this to be a tort, and would take various measures to punish those who did such. It would be considered no different than polluting someone else's property with toxic waste. Furthermore, with numerous owners of private bodies of water, various different strategies to deal with these species would be tried, and those most successful could be voluntarily adapted by all. With a free market sector dealing with these fish, the best solutions could be found.

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