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Invasive fish fines will bite wallet

Snakehead fish released by persons unknown into a Burnaby pond was captured in June after the lake level was pumped down. - Wanda Chow/Black Press
Snakehead fish released by persons unknown into a Burnaby pond was captured in June after the lake level was pumped down.
— image credit: Wanda Chow/Black Press

VICTORIA – Releasing a snakehead fish into B.C. waters could cost you up to $250,000.

The B.C. government has amended its controlled alien species regulation to impose steep fines for releasing invasive fish such as the snakehead, a Chinese import with a voracious appetite and the ability to wiggle across land to get to new waterways.

A snakehead fish discovered in a pond in Burnaby Central Park in June forced environment ministry biologists to pump the water level down so it could be captured. The toothy beasts were being imported and sold alive in Asian specialty food stores.

The new regulations also aim to stop the spread of zebra or quagga mussels that can attach themselves to boats and equipment and infest lakes. Failure to remove those mussels, alive or dead, can trigger a fine of up to $100,000.

"The impact of the snakehead and zebra mussel in other jurisdictions has been devastating to those local ecosystems," Environment Minister Terry Lake said Thursday, announcing the latest changes.

The regulations also prohibit possession and breeding of identified high-risk aquatic species. They expand the reach of legislation passed in 2009 that restricted ownership and breeding of tigers, snakes, crocodiles and a long list of other exotic animals. Added to the list are species of monitor lizard that grow to more than two metres long or otherwise represent a threat to public safety.

B.C.'s restrictions for private zoos were passed after a woman was killed by a Bengal tiger kept in a cage at an exotic animal attraction on a farm near 100 Mile House in 2007.

The new regulations add definitions for "accredited zoo or aquarium" as well as schools and research facilities that are permitted to possess exotic animals for study purposes.

The regulation requires owners of controlled species to apply for permits. Conservation officers have authority to seize animals that are considered an immediate threat to health and safety of people.

More information is available on the B.C. government website here.

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