The fish, which is native to rivers in South Asia and Southeast Asia, can grow to four feet or longer, but there are not yet enough data to know what effect the bullseye snakehead has had or will have on Florida ecology. The Crofton snakeheads were eventually traced to a Maryland man who’d bought two of the fish in New York City for his sister to eat. In Massachusetts, one was caught in 2001 and a second in 2004. The U.S. Most have blotches of dark scales flecked in white along the side of the body. If the snakehead is different enough from the predators that natives have evolved with, it might drive some natives to extinction. Snakeheads are on Missouri's Prohibited Species List, and live fish and viable eggs may not be imported, exported, transported, sold, purchased, or possessed in Missouri. Northern snakeheads can get up to three feet in length. The fish is able to survive out of water for several days. A snakehead fish is considered a non-native invasive species, which means it affects native species by competing for food and habitat. Keeping data on the size, number, and location of where snakeheads are caught or seen is vital to controlling this invasive fish. The various species of snakeheads differ greatly in size; dwarf snakeheads, such as Channa orientalis, do not surpass 25 cm (10 in) in length.Most other snakeheads reach between 30 and 90 cm (12 and 35 in). They’re fished commercially and raised in fish farms in Asia. Odenkirk, driving an aluminum boat through Dogue Creek, a Potomac tributary, was “electrofishing,” which involved running about 1,000 volts through a boom that protruded from the bow and trailed wires in the water like tentacles. We sped back up the Potomac past Mount Vernon to Little Hunting Creek, where the first Potomac snakehead was caught by a fisherman back in May. Scientists are trying to find out what disease they carry and how they may harm native species. To prevent this unwanted invader from coming into the province, Ontario has regulated all 28 species of snakehead (including Northern Snakehead) as prohibited under the Invasive Species Act. It is said that they will voraci… It's been called a \"frankenfish\" due to its aggressive reputation. Stopping the invasion might seem impossible, but another non-native species might be able to help. A couple more appeared in Florida waters in 2000. In the Great Smoky MountainsNational Park, on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, rainbows have taken over at least 70 percent of the native brook trout’s territory since the 1930s. “It’s just not even an option that we’ve caught them all.” He says the fish probably nest in wide, shallow expanses of lily pads and wetlands. Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Magazine But the other introduced species aren’t the point; the native fish are, says Dan Simberloff, an ecologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. To eliminate the snakehead menace, Maryland wildlife officials dumped the pesticide rotenone into the Crofton pond, killing all of its fish. The two species have similar habitats and would probably eat each other’s young. If northern snakeheads do have some ecological impact in the Potomac, largemouth bass are likely to suffer, says U.S. Geological Survey fishery biologist Walter Courtenay, who in 2002 wrote a snakehead risk assessment for the agency. Get the best of Smithsonian magazine by email. “Most invasive species don’t cause a huge amount of trouble, but some fraction of them do, and we haven’t been too good at predicting that,” he says. She nods, identifying it as her husband’s. It’s a critical question—if the fish were just recently dumped in the river, there’s a chance they’ll die without having generated a self-sustaining population—but it will require more than a rod and reel or a stun gun to answer. . But other officials say they’re not convinced the fish are here to stay. Virginia has outlawed the possession of all snakeheads. The U.S. After showing it off, Orrell shrugged, wrapped it up, laid it back in the freezer and washed his hands. Do not release the fish or toss it up on the bank, because it could migrate back to the water or to a new water body. Here a fish-market vendor displays a snakehead, which is a popular food item in parts of Asia. Northern snakeheads are a popular food in their native range; they’re said to be good eating, particularly in watercress soup, if a bit bony. Ecological Role: Though little is known about specific ecological impacts do to their recent introduction, as previously gauged from past Northern snakehead invasions outside of the United States. This fish prefers stagnant shallow ponds,swamps, or slow moving streams and rivers with mud substrate and aquatic vegetation. Smithsonian ichthyologist Thomas Orrell walked down an aisle between rows of gray metal shelves containing jars with labels such as “China 1924.” Orrell held up a jar marked Channa argus, the northern snakehead. An agency biologist e-mailed the picture to fish experts, who told Maryland it had a snakehead on its hands. Many species of snakehead have been sold through the aquarium industry in pet stores and via the Internet. Its long dorsal fin runs along most of its back. What is being done: Unfortunately, northern snakeheads have become firmly established in over 120 river miles of the tidal Potomac River. Two years later, northern snakeheads fulfilled biologists’ worst fear and showed up in the Potomac River. (It’s not considered sporting and requires a special permit.) Snakehead Fish. Asian zebra mussels, accidentally carried into U.S. waters aboard ships, have caused more than $1 billion in damage to pipes in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basin since 1988. “Of course, I’m worried about what potential it could have to impact the fishery,” he says. The largemouth bass, native to other U.S. rivers, was introduced into the Potomac in the 1800s. And in July 2004, an angler caught two in a lake in a Philadelphia park. It’s a wide, shallow river that originates in West Virginia and runs 380 miles before emptying into the Chesapeake. Originally introduced to the U.S. as pets, the snakes are now considered an invasive species and Floridians are allowed to kill Burmese pythons all year long — no permit or hunting license required. (A study conducted in Taiwan in the 1990s, for instance, found that 30 percent of Taipei citizens— most of them Buddhists—had released animals as part of a prayer.). At least, that was the theory. Aquarists that find them self stuck with a large fish that they do not wish to care for anymore will unfortunately often release the fish into the wild instead of going trough the trouble of finding it a new home or euthanize it. Neither did anyone else on the boat, and neither, we found out when we later pulled up at the marina, did anyone else in the roundup. Originating from China, Russia and Korea, the Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) is an invasive species to the Americas. Kill the fish by freezing it or putting it on ice for an extended length of time. They can also breathe air allowing them to survive on land and in low oxygenated systems. On an overcast Friday morning in July, I joined a few dozen anglers at Columbia Island Marina in Arlington, Virginia, across a narrow channel from the Pentagon. The problem with this method is that it also kills off any and every other species of fish and other animals that are in the area as well. “Listen, Norma,” the sheriff says. It has a lung-like organ in addition to gills and can breathe in air. But it may knock them out for a while. “If there’s anything at all that I can do, you tell me.”, “You can find the animal that did this and send it straight to hell. This is a method of spraying a liquid on top of the areas where these fish are inhabiting as well as injecting the fluid into the waters, which there for kills off the fish. Nearly all adults have a black dot surrounded with red or orange on the top part of the caudal (tail) fin. Rainbow trout, native to the western United States, have been transplanted into cold waters all over the Midwest and East. ), In southern Florida, a close relative of the northern snakehead, the bullseye or cobra snakehead, has been living for a few years in the canals of BrowardCounty. 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Cookie Policy But the bans haven’t stopped everyone. In addition to inspiring filmmakers, the snakehead’s appearance in North American waters in the past few years has worried wildlife biologists and commercial and sport fishermen. As the Amazon is deforested to make way for farming, fertilizer used on that land is … Once the snakehead fish was found to be invasive in more than just ponds, and had spread to rivers, there wasn't much action that could be taken in order to try and eliminate this species of fish. Florida is home to dozens of introduced fish. Experts worried that snakeheads in the Potomac, by eating other fish or out-competing them for food, could drive down numbers of more desirable species, such as shad or largemouth bass. “They’re really beautiful fish,” he said. But northern snakeheads do like to eat other fish, and a heavy rain could conceivably wash one or more from the pond into a nearby river that runs through a National Wildlife Refuge and into the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in North America. It’s hard to estimate the extent of the snakehead’s impact on largemouth bass and other Potomac species. California Do Not Sell My Info Moreover, tidal gates that normally keep fish in the park had been stuck open for two years. The scene is a sheriff’s office near a mountain lake, where a hunter and his dog have been found dead. Remember, this fish is an air breather and can live a long time out of water. The fish were chasing and nipping at each other. At the end of an hour and a half of electrofishing, the catch included many carp, several species of catfish, a bunch of goldfish, a long-nosed gar, a turtle— and zero snakeheads. On the other, “you’d be happy if you never saw one again.”, Though we didn’t see any snakeheads that day, Odenkirk says he’s sure the fish is established in the Potomac or soon will be. It’s a delicacy.” Fortunately, Turnbull wasn’t required to choose between duty to family or to society because he didn’t catch a snakehead. Young snakeheads may be golden brown or pale gray, darkening as they grow older. Odenkirk nosed the boat in and out of the empty slips at the Mount Vernon Yacht Club a couple of miles downriver from Little Hunting Creek. About the snakehead, he says, “I’m not optimistic.”. But, as in the Potomac, some native fish still hang on in the lake, and he says it’s worth fighting new invasions. Anglers who suspect they have caught a snakehead are encouraged to NOT release it, and report it to the PFBC at (610) 847-2442 or by sending an email to 17th Annual Photo Contest Finalists Announced. Vote Now! He thinks the fish were only very recently dumped in the river, perhaps after Virginia’s 2002 ban on snakehead ownership. They photographed the fish before throwing it back; a month later, one of them took the picture to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Give a Gift. With a snake-like head, a 33-inch body, and the ability to breathe on land, the Northern Snakehead Fish seems an almost alien threat to the Georgia ecosystem.. Orrell is also comparing the DNA of Potomac fish with that of those caught in the Crofton pond, testing the idea that someone might have captured juveniles before the pond was poisoned and released them in the Potomac. Scientists did some electrofishing in the harbor to look for more snakeheads but didn’t turn up any. Snakeheads (Channidae), as a group, are known as voracious predators on fishes, amphibians and crustaceans … The bay fuels the region’s economy through recreation and fishing. They fear that it will invade new rivers, multiply rampantly and edge out other species. And the blue catfish, a sharp-spined transplant from the Mississippi River basin that arrived in the Potomac late in the 20th century, is a headache for fishery managers now, who fear it could interfere with the commercial fishing of channel catfish—which were introduced from the Mississippi basin decades earlier. Advertising Notice The now-widespread common carp, brought over from Europe, was put in the river in the late 1800s. Although 16 adult snakeheads had been caught in the Potomac by that time, no one knew whether they’d been born there or whether someone had just tossed them in—or even how common they were. This star turn is fitting for the toothy “Frankenfish” that has generated many hair-raising newspaper and television news stories—the northern snakehead. We do know, though, that walking catfish are extremely pervasive across southern Florida and many scientist consider the introduction of the walking catfish into the area as one of the most harmful introduction in North America. However, this species is regarded with great concern as a potential invader. Since the late 1990s, the snakehead has been detected in the United States, where it is highly invasive. Early remained unpersuaded even after a baby snakehead was found in a Potomac tributary this past September. Snakeheads can commonly grow up to 10 or 12 pounds (with 18 pounds being the record), while bass might get to 3 or 4 pounds, and both fish occupy the … “High voltage . Philadelphia fisheries managers decided that poisoning or draining the park’s interconnected ponds would cause more harm to resident fish than the snakeheads would, and have resigned themselves to snakeheads becoming a new member of the park’s ecosystem. What is being done? The scene, which he described to some fisheries biologists, wasn’t exactly the makings of a Snakehead Terror sequel, but it was definitely ominous. Human Health Risks: Most snakeheads will avoid contact with humans. Capt. It made its national news debut in 2002, after an angler at a pond behind a strip mall in Crofton, Maryland, caught a long, skinny fish, about 18 inches from end to end, that neither he nor his fishing buddy recognized. She last wrote for Smithsonian about Panamanian tree frogs. The culprit in the Sci Fi Channel’s made-for-TV movie Snakehead Terror turns out to be a lakeful of monster fish. The most recent surprise appearance was this past October when a northern snakehead was pulled out of Lake Michigan. A small Snakehead that cost less than $ 7 to buy will soon grow up to be a large adult Snakehead that requires live fish for $ 7 – a day! But, he adds, some introduced fish might fill up some part of the food web that was previously unoccupied. Descendants of released pet goldfish flourish in the Potomac, as they do virtually all over the world. If you capture a snakehead fish: Do not release the fish or throw it up on the bank (it could wriggle back into the water). Report the sighting (see below). An unidentified angler caught this 12-inch northern snakehead fish at Marshall Hall on the Potomac River IN 2004, and the invasive species hasn't slowed its harmful impact. Odenkirk said he’s always conflicted after an unsuccessful day of snakehead fishing. National newspaper and TV news reports described snakeheads as vicious predators that would eat every fish in a pond, then waddle across land to another body of water and clean it out. They’ve walked their way into warm waters throughout the southern half of the state, without causing major damage so far, Shafland says. The northern snakehead is native to Asia and is one of 29 snakehead species. The giant snakehead is a voracious predator with sharp teeth, a large mouth, and strong jaws. Steve Early, assistant director in the fisheries service at the DNR, worked on the Crofton pond in 2002 and has handled some of the Potomac snakeheads. The next best thing to explosives,” read the small print on the back of Odenkirk’s green “Snakehead Task Force” T-shirt, which he designed to sell to colleagues for $12 apiece. Northern snakeheads are invasive … The catch has raised fears that the voracious predator might take over the Great Lakes. “Out of eight species of salmon here, six are introduced,” Willink says. It can grow up to five feet long. “We’re conducting an offsite meeting,” software designer Brian Turnbull explained. . Aggressive mute swans from Eurasia take over native waterfowl’s feeding and nesting territories on the East Coast and Great Lakes. “Also because I’m a businessperson and my business relies entirely on people coming here to fish.” Even now, he says, customers ask how much the snakeheads have hurt fishing. If they’re not kin, they were likely dumped in the river. The sheriff sets a bright orange hunting vest on his desk in front of an anxious woman. It was the 20th northern snakehead caught in the Potomac watershed, and the first juvenile. But unlike the Crofton fish, they had access to a river—the Schuylkill, which feeds into the Delaware. Besides Crofton and the Potomac, the fish have popped up in several other places in the United States. Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark. “Watch out for flying debris,” he said, unwrapping a black garbage bag and scattering pieces of frozen blood. Invasion of the Snakeheads The voracious “Frankenfish” has turned up in the Potomac River, Lake Michigan and a California lake, sparking fears of an ecological Armageddon. In 1997, one was caught in a Southern California lake. Python Patrol is fighting Florida’s Burmese python invasion, reducing the invasive snake’s threat to the Everglade’s endangered species. I tagged along in a 19-foot white-and-blue ski boat with three managers from a family-owned company whose boss didn’t seem to mind that the information technology division was running itself that day. Biologists tried using nets to capture snakeheads in the river, but eventually decided that a better way would be to let anglers go at the fish with plain old hooks and lines—which led to one of the odder fishing tournaments in recent memory. Snakehead Care Some people keep these fish in aquariums, and some public aquariums house these fish to educate on the dangers of invasive species. Fish and Wildlife Service soon banned the importation and interstate transport of snakeheads, a plan that had already been in the works precisely because of fears that some snakehead species could thrive in parks, rivers and lakes if they got loose. He already knows whether the snakeheads are reproducing in the Potomac, but he isn’t telling; adhering to scientific protocol, Orrell declines to share his data until they’ve been reviewed by other experts and published in a scientific journal. “Snakeheads are—they’re kind of bad-asses,” Odenkirk said. The roundup was sponsored by the Marina Operators Association of America to remind boat owners to take care not to transport unwanted species from one place to another—as hitchhikers on their boats or trailers, for example—and to let them know what northern snakeheads look like. “They don’t like the juice and they try to avoid it.” Still, a snakehead that got close to the trailing wires would be stunned and surface, for Herrmann or Owens to snag. The northern snakehead (Channa argus) is a native of the Yangtze River basin in China. Electrofishing, a common sampling method in fisheries research, isn’t meant to kill fish. If the northern snakehead does establish itself in the United States, it’ll join a rogue’s gallery of introduced species that threaten native plants and animals in and around water. (The largemouth bass, native to North America, was introduced to Japanese waters in 1925 and is reportedly terrorizing native fish and snakeheads alike. Researchers are tagging Northern Snakeheads daily. Create your own unique website with customizable templates. In Europe, the first report of the species was from Czechoslovakia in 1956. They’ve also been sold live in markets in the United States. Problem solved. Privacy Statement “We have philosophically, largely determined that exotics are inherently bad, and that’s fine,” he says. Their future also depends on whether other fish in the Potomac develop a taste for snakehead fry. Helen Fields is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. She will write about more or less anything, but she focuses on biology. He lifted the top of a nearby freezer chest, rooted around and pulled out a long, black lump. Like its reptilian namesake, it’s long and slender and can sport blotchy snakelike patterns on its skin. The northern snakehead (Channa argus) is known for being able to survive on land for days at a time. Researchers are also learning the biology and behavior of this fish and will help the biologists determine more methods of removal and control over these fish. Afish’s response to the electrical current depends on its skeletal structure, scales, size and how close it is to the wires. Photograph the fish if you have access to a camera so the species of snakehead fish can be positively identified. Steve Chaconas, one of only a few full-time fishing guides on the Potomac, does not like snakeheads one bit. “We’re just trying to preserve what is left, because once it’s gone, it’s gone.” Since the Lake Michigan snakehead was found in a fairly deep harbor with little vegetation—an unlikely snakehead habitat—Willink surmises that the fish was probably just tossed into the water. The way the biologists see it, the fish were getting ready to spawn. The air sacs are handy for surviving in waters that are low in oxygen, and even allow the fish to survive out of water for a couple of days, as long as it doesn’t dry out. Some species, including the northern snakehead, have been sold through the live food fish industry. He says he saw two northern snakeheads swimming around each other in Little Hunting Creek in late July. Currently (October 2019), Georgia is dealing with a full-on invasion of snakehead fish. Outcomes; Visuals. It was after another angler caught a snakehead in the same pond and netted some babies that all hell broke loose. . It travels over land with a wriggling motion and moves up to a quarter of a mile to reach a new waterway. Snakeheads couldn’t survive in the mildly salty water of the bay, but they could scarf down shad, fish that spawn in the Potomac and other freshwater tributaries. Inside was one of the most recent Potomac catches: a dark, diamond-patterned snakehead more than a foot long, now solid as a rock. Carp stir up a riverbed and make the water too cloudy for some other fish. The northern snakehead was introduced to rivers in Japan in the early 20th century, but there has been little study of its ecological effects there. Behind a door at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. rest specimens from the world’s largest fish collection. Magnus may have witnessed a seminal moment. Lawrenceville, Georgia — Georgia's Department of Natural Resources has a message for anglers: If you catch a northern snakehead, kill it immediately. Amazonian water hyacinths clog Southern waterways. Invasive. It has a large mouth with a protruding lower jaw and many teeth. Clockwise from top: A denizen of the East, the bullfrog now inhabits the West, where it eats more delicate local frogs. Orrell led me down a bare stairwell into the museum’s basement, past sandbags piled near an entrance in case of heavy rain and a walk-in freezer that smelled of long-dead fish, containing, among other things, an enormous tuna frozen since the 1960s. You can dump poison in a little, enclosed pond, but you can’t poison the Potomac. The Potomac is not the river it was when George Washington looked upon it from Mount Vernon and made good money selling native shad. They have a long dorsal fin that runs along their whole back, and a dark brown blotchy appearance. He’s analyzing DNA from 16 fish; if some of the Potomac specimens are closely related, it’s likely that the fish bred in the river. It has tan, dark brown or black coloring with a mottled, snake-like pattern. The recent documentation of snakehead in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal suggests that this species may have gained access to the nontidal Potomac River upstream of Great Falls. Nutria, imported from South America as a source of fur, devour plant roots in marshes along the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake. Then, like an ecological game of Whac-a-Mole, another northern snakehead reared its toothy head the very next week when a professional bass fisherman pulled a 12 1/2-incher from Little Hunting Creek, a Potomac tributary in Virginia about 15 miles south of the nation’s capital. Tiny fish leapt out of the water as others lolled gracelessly on their backs, stunned, just below the surface. “He says if you catch one, you don’t have to hand it over to the state. The northern snakehead (Channa argus) is a species of snakehead fish native to China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea, ranging from the Amur River to Hainan. In the late 1960s, the walking catfish, an Asian species that really can move over land, escaped into the Florida wild. or Courtenay says the fish probably first got into Florida waters through ritual animal release, a common practice in East Asia that some immigrants have continued in their new land. Or so it appeared. Lake Michigan, says Philip Willink, an ichthyologist at Chicago’s FieldMuseum, is also infested with nonnative fish. Continue his wife, a lawyer), but the attention he got from catching a snakehead last June in a Potomac tributary has brought him sponsors willing to pay his entry fees for bass tournaments. Biologist Steve Owens and technician Scott Herrmann leaned over the bow clutching long-handled nets. A Los Angeles grocer was arrested this past May for allegedly smuggling live northern snakeheads into the country from Korea and selling them in his store; he pleaded guilty to importing an injurious species. Fish and Cliff Magnus is a semiprofessional fisherman (he says he’s been sponsored for the past ten years by “Team Spouse,” a.k.a. The recent discovery of northern snakehead in Maryland captured the attention of local, regional, and national leaders. Description. It can reach over 33 inches in length and tolerate a wide range of temperatures (32-85°F). On the one hand, he said, he was disappointed he’d failed to catch one. They have been dubbed Frankenfish or fish from hell and there are already many urban myths circulating about these introduced fish. By Jonathan Frazier. “We just can’t get back in those areas.”. A reporter from the Baltimore Sun called it “a companion for the Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The scariest reports, fortunately, turned out to be mistaken. These fish prefer freshwater habitats with a variety of hiding places like logs and underwater plants. The 2004 Snakehead Roundup was about to get under way. It’s hard to predict what will happen, though. One action that can be taken but is frowned upon is a tactic known as Rotenone. The northern snakehead, which is native to parts of China, far eastern Russia and the Korean peninsula, may seem plug-ugly to the undiscerning eye—it has big, pointy teeth and, given its particularly heavy mucus covering, a slime problem. One day this past April, an angler caught a feisty northern snakehead in Pine Lake, in Wheaton, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. Local officials drained the lake but found no more snakeheads. Like the Crofton fish, the Philadelphia ones had settled in and started reproducing. A female lays thousands of eggs at a time, and both parents guard their offspring in a large nest they make in a clearing of aquatic plants. Millions of dollars have already been spent on fish stocking, dam modifications and other projects to help the shad, which used to be plentiful enough to support a commercial fishery in the bay. 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