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A snakehead fish.

Jonathan Drake/ Reuters/Jonathan Drake/ Reuters

British Columbia could soon lose its status as the only jurisdiction in North America that allows the importation of live northern snakeheads, an invasive predatory fish that made headlines after it was apparently spotted in a Burnaby lagoon.

Provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake said in an interview Friday the ministry is treating the incident as a high priority and is looking at several options.

"This is the first incident where we've seen this get into the wild," he said. "Of course we will have to move quickly."

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Mr. Lake, MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson, said B.C. could add the northern snakehead to its list of banned exotic animals. However, he said it might be more expedient to apply for a ban as an alien aquatic species under the federal Fisheries Act.

He said it is clear from other jurisdictions that the northern snakehead can play havoc with native species, and a risk assessment is already under way.

The northern snakehead issue came to light this week after an amateur video appeared to show the predatory fish swimming in Burnaby's Central Park lagoon.

Mr. Lake was asked by the Opposition NDP on Thursday if he would do everything in his power to ensure the species is no longer imported into B.C., joining every other jurisdiction in North America. He answered yes.

The video clip has generated interest not just in B.C., but also south of the border.

Susan Jewell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week the entire snakehead family – consisting of dozens of species – is listed as an "injurious wildlife species" in the United States. Live imports and interstate transport are illegal.

She was surprised to learn live snakehead imports are legal in B.C. "It's a little unsettling to me," she said, "because they can swim into the United States."

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T&T Supermarkets, the national chain of grocery stores, said Friday it has stopped selling live snakeheads. The fish is viewed as a delicacy and sells at up to $22 a pound.

"As a gesture, we proactively removed it voluntarily," said Sandra Creighton, the grocer's spokeswoman. "Because it seems like some people had concerns about the fish."

Matthias Herborg, aquatic invasive species co-ordinator for the B.C. Environment Ministry, said of all the species of snakehead, the northern snakehead would be the most dangerous were it to spread through provincial waters. He said the northern snakehead is better suited to survive in B.C. than other snakeheads.

Mr. Herborg said the ministry will next week assemble a crew in Burnaby to try and capture the fish.

With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria

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