Like its reptilian namesake, it’s long and slender and can sport blotchy snakelike patterns on its skin. 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. In the late 1960s, the walking catfish, an Asian species that really can move over land, escaped into the Florida wild. 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. It can reach over 33 inches in length and tolerate a wide range of temperatures (32-85°F). The U.S. Cliff Magnus is a semiprofessional fisherman (he says he’s been sponsored for the past ten years by “Team Spouse,” a.k.a. The Potomac is not the river it was when George Washington looked upon it from Mount Vernon and made good money selling native shad. Snakeheads (Channidae), as a group, are known as voracious predators on fishes, amphibians and crustaceans … It’s hard to predict what will happen, though. 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 … It has a lung-like organ in addition to gills and can breathe in air. The northern snakehead is a predatory fish native to China's Yangtze River region. The way the biologists see it, the fish were getting ready to spawn. 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’ve walked their way into warm waters throughout the southern half of the state, without causing major damage so far, Shafland says. 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. 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. A few weeks later, John Odenkirk, a biologist from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, seemed to be imitating the sheriff in Snakehead Terror, who kills his murderous lakeful of snakeheads by electrocuting them with a downed power line. 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. Scientists did some electrofishing in the harbor to look for more snakeheads but didn’t turn up any. 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. It travels over land with a wriggling motion and moves up to a quarter of a mile to reach a new waterway. 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. Six adult snakeheads went belly up—as did more than 1,000 juveniles. This fish prefers stagnant shallow ponds,swamps, or slow moving streams and rivers with mud substrate and aquatic vegetation. Nutria, imported from South America as a source of fur, devour plant roots in marshes along the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake. The U.S. 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. 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). 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. 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. The northern snakehead is native to Asia and is one of 29 snakehead species. Cookie Policy Paul Shafland, a fisheries scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, has worked with invasive fish for 30 years, but he isn’t as troubled by them as most biologists. These fish prefer freshwater habitats with a variety of hiding places like logs and underwater plants. They are freshwater fish, so they are being found primarily in the lakes and rivers of Georgia, as well as Maryland, Virginia, Florida, and Texas. Unlike most fish, the northern snakehead has little sacs above its gills that function almost like lungs; the fish can surface and suck air into the sacs, then draw oxygen from the stored air as it swims. When she demurred, he kept them in his aquarium and later released them. The fish were chasing and nipping at each other. Afish’s response to the electrical current depends on its skeletal structure, scales, size and how close it is to the wires. By Jonathan Frazier. Terms of Use The fish is able to survive out of water for several days. Two years later, northern snakeheads fulfilled biologists’ worst fear and showed up in the Potomac River. In Asia, it's a delicacy. For now, scientists are working on figuring out how the adults got there. About the snakehead, he says, “I’m not optimistic.”. Kill the fish by freezing it or putting it on ice for an extended length of time. Steve Chaconas, one of only a few full-time fishing guides on the Potomac, does not like snakeheads one bit. Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark. 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Carp stir up a riverbed and make the water too cloudy for some other fish. Advertising Notice Moreover, tidal gates that normally keep fish in the park had been stuck open for two years. 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). They have been dubbed Frankenfish or fish from hell and there are already many urban myths circulating about these introduced fish. Capt. A snakehead fish is considered a non-native invasive species, which means it affects native species by competing for food and habitat. 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. On the one hand, he said, he was disappointed he’d failed to catch one. 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. “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. 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. He says he saw two northern snakeheads swimming around each other in Little Hunting Creek in late July. Python Patrol is fighting Florida’s Burmese python invasion, reducing the invasive snake’s threat to the Everglade’s endangered species. However, when guarding their eggs or young, they can … 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. Create your own unique website with customizable templates. 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. “Watch out for flying debris,” he said, unwrapping a black garbage bag and scattering pieces of frozen blood. 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. Outcomes; Visuals. Besides Crofton and the Potomac, the fish have popped up in several other places in the United States. 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 tgrabowski@pa.gov. Researchers are tagging Northern Snakeheads daily. 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. Many species of snakehead have been sold through the aquarium industry in pet stores and via the Internet. But the bans haven’t stopped everyone. What is being done: Unfortunately, northern snakeheads have become firmly established in over 120 river miles of the tidal Potomac River. Remember, this fish is an air breather and can live a long time out of water. The sheriff sets a bright orange hunting vest on his desk in front of an anxious woman. Keep up-to-date on: © 2021 Smithsonian Magazine. Invasive. Northern snakeheads are invasive … Privacy Statement 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. . A couple more appeared in Florida waters in 2000. “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. It’s hard to estimate the extent of the snakehead’s impact on largemouth bass and other Potomac species. Goldfish, carp, channel catfish—none is native to the river. Since the late 1990s, the snakehead has been detected in the United States, where it is highly invasive. Scientists are trying to find out what disease they carry and how they may harm native species. 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. 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. Description. The bay fuels the region’s economy through recreation and fishing. But it may knock them out for a while. 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. Rainbow trout, native to the western United States, have been transplanted into cold waters all over the Midwest and East. The scene, which he described to some fisheries biologists, wasn’t exactly the makings of a Snakehead Terror sequel, but it was definitely ominous. 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. The northern snakehead is a long, thin fish, similar in appearance to the native bowfin. 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. The ban made it illegal to import all live snakehead species, including the colorful tropical species that populate the odd aquarium. You can do that.”. In 1997, one was caught in a Southern California lake. One such invasive species is the snakehead fish in the United States. “Listen, Norma,” the sheriff says. Turnbull’s father-in-law, who is Vietnamese, asked him to bring a snakehead home. Electrofishing, a common sampling method in fisheries research, isn’t meant to kill fish. It has a large mouth with a protruding lower jaw and many teeth. 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. 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. Continue (The largemouth bass, native to North America, was introduced to Japanese waters in 1925 and is reportedly terrorizing native fish and snakeheads alike. What is Being Done About it. (It’s not considered sporting and requires a special permit.) It is said that they will voraci… 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. 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. He points out that most of the snakeheads caught this year have been 2 to 6 years old, and that if they’d been living in the Potomac for years, surely someone would have caught one before. What is being done? Its long dorsal fin runs along most of its back. “We have philosophically, largely determined that exotics are inherently bad, and that’s fine,” he says. They fear that it will invade new rivers, multiply rampantly and edge out other species. Snakehead Fish. In Massachusetts, one was caught in 2001 and a second in 2004. Descendants of released pet goldfish flourish in the Potomac, as they do virtually all over the world. 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. 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. 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. The largemouth bass, native to other U.S. rivers, was introduced into the Potomac in the 1800s. Odenkirk said he’s always conflicted after an unsuccessful day of snakehead fishing. Stopping the invasion might seem impossible, but another non-native species might be able to help. The snakehead fish, an invasive marine predator that can slither over land, arrived in Washington almost a decade ago. It has tan, dark brown or black coloring with a mottled, snake-like pattern. If the snakehead is different enough from the predators that natives have evolved with, it might drive some natives to extinction. . But the other introduced species aren’t the point; the native fish are, says Dan Simberloff, an ecologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. But unlike the Crofton fish, they had access to a river—the Schuylkill, which feeds into the Delaware. Behind a door at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. rest specimens from the world’s largest fish collection. While some species of snakeheads can indeed wriggle long distances across the ground, the northern snakehead—the only species found in the Crofton pond—appears not to be one of them. You can dump poison in a little, enclosed pond, but you can’t poison the Potomac. For more information on the Invasive Species Act and Regulations visit www.ontario.ca/invasionON. 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. California Do Not Sell My Info “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. He thinks the fish were only very recently dumped in the river, perhaps after Virginia’s 2002 ban on snakehead ownership. To eliminate the snakehead menace, Maryland wildlife officials dumped the pesticide rotenone into the Crofton pond, killing all of its fish. Clockwise from top: A denizen of the East, the bullfrog now inhabits the West, where it eats more delicate local frogs. 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