Two men in the US have been charged with selling live snakeheads and Walking catfish, both of which are considered invasive species in the United States.
Snakeheads are thought to have been introduced into US waterways through Asian seafood merchants, devastating the country's ecosystems. Walking catfish (Clarias) were once imported as popular aquarium fish, but escaped into waterways and have harmed ecosystems in Florida. Both have no natural enemies outside their native habitat in Southeast Asia and are known as voracious eaters that consume native species. Both species also have the ability to "walk" from one water body to another during wet seasons by wriggling their body and fins.
It is illegal to import snakeheads and Walking catfish into the United States and to transport them between states.
A covert operation led to the charges against Ash Khatib and Daniel Thacker, both from Michegan. The two-year investigation involved a confidential informant who had bought two Walking catfish from a pet store where Khatib worked as a manager.
Khatib told the Detroit Free Press that he had no idea Walking catfish were an invasive species and selling them is illegal.
"It was just like a stupid mistake. We should have disposed of them ... but most of them died in transit," said Khatib, who is now unemployed. "It's not like I was trying to make a killing on it. It was a mistake."
According to court records, the informant bought the two Walking catfish in 2009 for $14/£9 each from the Pet Station store in Dearborn. The following year, an undercover agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service went to the pet shop and found a Walking catfish there, with a price tag of $79.99/£51.
Four days later the agent returned to the shop and asked if he could get hold of a snakehead. Khatib replied that "selling snakehead fish was like selling drugs because it was illegal", but the agent persisted and was then introduced to Thacker, who took the agent to his home, where he had about 100 snakeheads in two aquariums and a small plastic swimming pool. Thacker told the agent it was very risky to "bring them in," and that he would have to pay a $10,000/£6460 fine per fish if he were caught.
The agent bought one of the fish from Thacker for $100/£64 and made several more trips to his home to buy illegal snakeheads.
In July last year, federal agents searched Thacker's home where they seized several snakehads. He confessed that he was getting the fish from Khatib, who was receiving them from a fish importer in Ohio.
Thacker admitted that the fish were smuggled into the US and said that he had made less than $5,000/£3230 from selling them, court records state.
He also told authorities that he had been asked by Khatib to sell the snakeheads from his home because Khatib knew they were illegal.
Khatib later admitted to selling illegal fish when questioned by agents who went to his home.
If convicted, the two men face up to five years in prison, and a maximum fine of $250,000/£161,540.
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