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Northern Snakehead

Northern Snakehead
Northern Snakehead
Over the past several years fisheries biologists and fisherman across the US have become increasingly concerned by an invasive species of fish that has been found living in the wild in several US states, the snakehead. The Northern Snakehead, Channa argus, is is a top-tier predator that can live out of water for days at a time, cross land to find new territories, and has a ferocious appetite for other fish. They have been known to eat frogs, birds, and even small mammals. Indigenous to eastern Asia the northern snakehead has been fairly common in the in the food market and some of the 28 species of snakeheads have been sold in the pet industry. Some snakehead species can reach lengths of up to 40 inches. Growing to large for most aquariums, some owners have made the horrible mistake of releasing the fish into the wild once they outgrow their aquarium. A second species of snakehead, the giant snakehead, Channa micropeltes, sometimes called the red or redline snakehead has also been found in US waterways.

The snakehead has been found in the wild in several states including Arkansas (2008), California (1997), Florida (2000), Hawaii, Maine (1976), Maryland (5/02), Massachusetts (2001), North Carolina, New York,  Pennsylvania (7/04), Rhode Island, and Virginia (9/04).

Why should we be worried about the snakeheads? As noted above the snakeheads are a top-tier predator meaning they have few if any natural predators. Females are known to produce up to 15,000 eggs. As noted below in the Crofton Maryland case below, within two years of their introduction to a four acre pond, snakeheads outnumbered the the native species who had been in the pond for years longer. Snakeheads could also introduce new parasites or diseases. They will also compete with native species for food and shelter. The bottom line is when people release their non-native pets into the wild it can cause all sorts of problems both environmentally and economically.  So many potential problems in fact, it is impossible for anyone to know or understand the long term ramifications of these actions.

On May 18th, 2002 an 18 inch snakehead was caught in a four acre pond near Crofton Maryland. I June of the same year another fisherman caught a 26 inch snakehead, and latter caught 6 juvenile snakeheads with a dip net. Subsequent electro-fishing by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) revealed more than 100 young snakeheads. It was eventually learned that a local resident had purchased two live snakeheads at a fish market and released them into the pond in 2000.

Latter in 2002 a plan to eradicate the fish was proposed and approved. The plan was was basically a two step process where first a herbicide would be applied to the pond to kill all aquatic plant life then after one to two weeks rotenone would be added to the pond to kill all the fish living in the pond.

On September 4th 2002 the Maryland (DNR) applied rotenone to pond in the Crofton area and 2 smaller ponds in the area in an attempt to eradicate the Northern Snakehead from the area. These ponds are approximately 100 yards from the Little Patuxent River. The results were shocking and disturbing, more than 1,250 juvenile and 6 adult Northern Snakeheads were killed along with all the other fish in the pond. All of the snakeheads recovered came from the one four acre pond. 

The state of Maryland and Bass Pro Shops have teamed up to offer a reward for any Snakehead fish that are caught.

Anyone who catches a snakehead is asked to kill it humanely with a blow to the head. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources should be notified as soon as possible by calling (410) 260-8320 or 1 (877) 520-8DNR, ext. 8230.

Gift cards to Bass Pro Shops will be given in the following amounts:

$10 for snakeheads smaller than 12 inches
$25 for snakeheads 13 to 24 inches
$50 for snakeheads longer than 24 inches

To qualify, the fish must be caught with hook and line, reported to the DNR and turned in to the Bass Pro Shops in Hanover, Md.
It is illegal in at least seventeen states to possess live snakeheads: Alabama, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.

In January 2005 a Los Angeles, California area supermarket owner Daniel Rhee and his Assi Super Incorporated was fined almost $230,000 and given 3 years probation for importing and selling live snakehead fish. Rhee was smuggling about $25,000 dollars worth of the fish per year from Korea. They were imported labeled as "sea bass" and/or "freshwater bass" 

Snakehead Related Links & Resources:
Virginia Snakeheads
USGS snakehead Biological Synopsis & Risk Assessment
Snakehead Found in Tennessee Waters
Breeding Population of Snakeheads Found in Arkansas
Snakehead Found in New York

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