Snakehead fish appear in large numbers near Potomac River

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Friday, October 14, 2005 File:Northern Snakehead face.jpg

Close up of the
Northern Snakehead
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

A predatory non-native fish species known as the Northern Snakehead, discovered 3 years ago in waters east of the Chesapeake Bay, were caught in quantities numbering into the 80’s on a small feeder creek of the Potomac River earlier this week. The numbers were enough to convince some biologists that the species is here to stay, and to echo concerns over what the voracious fish will do to the natural balance of the water’s ecosystem.

The fish were first reported by a week-end fisherman on the rain swollen Dogue Creek. An investigation by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources on Monday led to driving the fish up the normally small creek to where they were captured by large dip nets. From their appearance in televised coverage, they ranged in length from 6 to 8 inches.

Previous to this recent snakehead finding, those caught along Potomac River were not genetically descendent from the species that caused a media stir in 2002, when the fish was first discovered and gained notoriety. That discovery led to the draining of an entire pond in an effort to eradicate its habitat near Crofton, Maryland. The slight genetic differences between the Crofton fish and those of the Potomac lends hope to the belief the Potomac fish were just another instance of their being released into the wild, and not an indication of a rapid spawning and population growth of their species.

Little is known about the toothy fish other than it is considered a top-level predator from its native region of China, and that catches of it have been reported in lengths exceeding 20 inches on the Potomac (.pdf map) below Washington D.C. . Whether the fish has any natural predators within its new environs is unknown. While it is believed to be a fresh water fish, it may find the brackish water of the Chesapeake Bay tolerable, as do many other fresh water fish of the region.

Sportsman are advised to kill the fish, and not simply “bank” it, because the species, capable of living out of water for several days and crawling using its fins to propel it, is dubbed the ‘Frankenfish’ after Dr. Frankenstein's monster for this survival trait. Notify the Department of Natural Resources of any encounter with it.

File:Snakehead profile.gif

(Image missing from Commons: image; log)