Bayside Frankenfish frenzy just a rumor: Parks Dept.

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It seems as if the dreaded Frankenfish has only made a phantom appearance in Bayside’s Oakland Lake.

A spokeswoman for the city Parks Department said Monday a fish caught in the lake Sunday evening was not the vicious snakehead fish as first thought but a tamer variety of fish.

Snakeheads, a fish native to southeast Asian and known for its ability to walk on land for up to three days as well as its voracious appetite, were in the news this summer when they were found in a pond in Maryland. The media dubbed the snakeheads “Frankenfish” after publicizing their unusual abilities.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, snakeheads are seen as potentially dangerous to more than 130 endangered aquatic species and are a delicacy in China.

But the Parks Department said the fish captured in Oakland Lake Sunday was not the feared snakehead but a fish from the Amazon in South America and Asia called an arowana.

Arowanas are not considered dangerous, the Parks Department spokeswoman said Monday.

Alexander Brash, chief of the Urban Park Rangers, said Tuesday he had identified the Oakland Lake fish as an arowana as had the American Museum of Natural History.

“It was about a foot long and probably weighed only a pound,” Brash said. “They are a predatory fish, but it doesn’t eat more than a two-pound bass.”

Brash, who used to work in the Amazon, said the Oakland Lake arowana was probably Brazilian in origin and most likely a pet that was dumped in the lake.

“I would say this was probably in a 10-gallon tank and probably just got too big,” he said.

Baysider Vincent Saporito was at Oakland Lake when the 14-inch arowana was caught.

“I’d only seen pictures, but it sure as hell did look like” a snakehead, said Saporito, who was skeptical when told otherwise. “It had this pointed snout with teeth.”

When told of local residents’ disbelief in the Parks assessment of the Oakland Lake fish, Brash said “a snakehead has much bigger teeth” than the Bayside arowana.

David Perkins, a fishery biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said arowanas are popular in aquariums and sometimes traded by fish breeders.

The arowana “wouldn’t be expected to survive long in the wild in New York,” said Perkins, who said it would probably be difficult to confuse an arowana and a snakehead.

“I don’t know that they’re quite as newsworthy” as the snakeheads, Perkins said.

The snakeheads found in Maryland were considered so dangerous to the local ecosystem that state officials chose to kill off the fish by poisoning the lake in which they were found to prevent the snakeheads from traveling to other bodies of water.

In July, Gale Norton, secretary of the U.S. Interior Department, summed up the snakehead’s creepy attributes.

“These fish are like something from a bad horror movie,” Norton said in a statement.

Snakeheads have been found in several states, according to the Interior Department, including California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The fish have been sold live in fish food markets in Boston and New York, the department said.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:23 pm, October 10, 2011
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