“We’re conducting an offsite meeting,” software designer Brian Turnbull explained. On the one hand, he said, he was disappointed he’d failed to catch one. Moreover, tidal gates that normally keep fish in the park had been stuck open for two years. 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 … The northern snakehead is a predatory fish native to China's Yangtze River region. Virginia has outlawed the possession of all snakeheads. Nutria, imported from South America as a source of fur, devour plant roots in marshes along the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake. In Massachusetts, one was caught in 2001 and a second in 2004. Two years later, northern snakeheads fulfilled biologists’ worst fear and showed up in the Potomac River. 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. It’s a wide, shallow river that originates in West Virginia and runs 380 miles before emptying into the Chesapeake. Cliff Magnus is a semiprofessional fisherman (he says he’s been sponsored for the past ten years by “Team Spouse,” a.k.a. The 2004 Snakehead Roundup was about to get under way. 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. One action that can be taken but is frowned upon is a tactic known as Rotenone. Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark. 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. “They’re really beautiful fish,” he said. Researchers are tagging Northern Snakeheads daily. 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. Odenkirk said he’s always conflicted after an unsuccessful day of snakehead fishing. The two species have similar habitats and would probably eat each other’s young. Electrofishing, a common sampling method in fisheries research, isn’t meant to kill fish. A couple more appeared in Florida waters in 2000. The largest documented bullseye snakehead weighed more than 14 pounds (37 inches) … The bay fuels the region’s economy through recreation and fishing. But, as in the Potomac, some native fish still hang on in the lake, and he says it’s worth fighting new invasions. And in July 2004, an angler caught two in a lake in a Philadelphia park. Or so it appeared. 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. 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. 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. One such invasive species is the snakehead fish in the United States. 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. Scientists did some electrofishing in the harbor to look for more snakeheads but didn’t turn up any. 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. Problem solved. The giant snakehead is a voracious predator with sharp teeth, a large mouth, and strong jaws. By Jonathan Frazier. 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. 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. Magnus may have witnessed a seminal moment. What is being done? Behind a door at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. rest specimens from the world’s largest fish collection. 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. Keep up-to-date on: © 2021 Smithsonian Magazine. Lawrenceville, Georgia — Georgia's Department of Natural Resources has a message for anglers: If you catch a northern snakehead, kill it immediately. 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. The northern snakehead's elongated body grows to 33 inches in length. The U.S. “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. 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. Originating from China, Russia and Korea, the Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) is an invasive species to the Americas. 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. Young snakeheads may be golden brown or pale gray, darkening as they grow older. 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. The scene is a sheriff’s office near a mountain lake, where a hunter and his dog have been found dead. In Asia, it's a delicacy. The catch has raised fears that the voracious predator might take over the Great Lakes. In the United States, the fish is considered to be a highly invasive species. Lake Michigan, says Philip Willink, an ichthyologist at Chicago’s FieldMuseum, is also infested with nonnative fish. 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. The ban made it illegal to import all live snakehead species, including the colorful tropical species that populate the odd aquarium. 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. Florida is home to dozens of introduced fish. Give a Gift. 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. Clockwise from top: A denizen of the East, the bullfrog now inhabits the West, where it eats more delicate local frogs. As the Amazon is deforested to make way for farming, fertilizer used on that land is … 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. 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. If the snakehead is different enough from the predators that natives have evolved with, it might drive some natives to extinction. Goldfish, carp, channel catfish—none is native to the river. 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. Besides Crofton and the Potomac, the fish have popped up in several other places in the United States. Carp stir up a riverbed and make the water too cloudy for some other fish. 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. Since the late 1990s, the snakehead has been detected in the United States, where it is highly invasive. Snakeheads (Channidae), as a group, are known as voracious predators on fishes, amphibians and crustaceans … The U.S. Fish and 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. Aggressive mute swans from Eurasia take over native waterfowl’s feeding and nesting territories on the East Coast and Great Lakes. But, he adds, some introduced fish might fill up some part of the food web that was previously unoccupied. U.S. fans of snakehead soup and other delicacies, however, may still legally obtain killed, frozen snakeheads, which are available in many of the Asian markets that once sold them live. 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. . 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. Terms of Use 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. The fish were chasing and nipping at each other. The northern snakehead is a long, thin fish, similar in appearance to the native bowfin. Inside was one of the most recent Potomac catches: a dark, diamond-patterned snakehead more than a foot long, now solid as a rock. It's been called a \"frankenfish\" due to its aggressive reputation. Rainbow trout, native to the western United States, have been transplanted into cold waters all over the Midwest and East. They fear that it will invade new rivers, multiply rampantly and edge out other species. About the snakehead, he says, “I’m not optimistic.”. It was the 20th northern snakehead caught in the Potomac watershed, and the first juvenile. Here a fish-market vendor displays a snakehead, which is a popular food item in parts of Asia. “Watch out for flying debris,” he said, unwrapping a black garbage bag and scattering pieces of frozen blood. Early remained unpersuaded even after a baby snakehead was found in a Potomac tributary this past September. The northern snakehead is native to Asia and is one of 29 snakehead 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. 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. But other officials say they’re not convinced the fish are here to stay. 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.. Snakehead Fish. However, this species is regarded with great concern as a potential invader. However, when guarding their eggs or young, they can … 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. 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. “High voltage . Six adult snakeheads went belly up—as did more than 1,000 juveniles. (The largemouth bass, native to North America, was introduced to Japanese waters in 1925 and is reportedly terrorizing native fish and snakeheads alike. 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. . Like its reptilian namesake, it’s long and slender and can sport blotchy snakelike patterns on its skin. In 1997, one was caught in a Southern California lake. 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. But it may knock them out for a while. 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. 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. They’re fished commercially and raised in fish farms in Asia. 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. 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. Northern snakeheads are invasive … A snakehead fish is considered a non-native invasive species, which means it affects native species by competing for food and habitat. It has a lung-like organ in addition to gills and can breathe in air. 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. They can also breathe air allowing them to survive on land and in low oxygenated systems. Invasive. 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. 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. Python Patrol is fighting Florida’s Burmese python invasion, reducing the invasive snake’s threat to the Everglade’s endangered species. Steve Chaconas, one of only a few full-time fishing guides on the Potomac, does not like snakeheads one bit. “He says if you catch one, you don’t have to hand it over to the state. California Do Not Sell My Info 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. 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. 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. “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. Descendants of released pet goldfish flourish in the Potomac, as they do virtually all over the world. 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They’ve also been sold live in markets in the United States. He thinks the fish were only very recently dumped in the river, perhaps after Virginia’s 2002 ban on snakehead ownership. 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. (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.). “Snakeheads are—they’re kind of bad-asses,” Odenkirk said. 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. Get the best of Smithsonian magazine by email. 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. Keeping data on the size, number, and location of where snakeheads are caught or seen is vital to controlling this invasive fish. Human Health Risks: Most snakeheads will avoid contact with humans. 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 sheriff sets a bright orange hunting vest on his desk in front of an anxious woman. The snakehead fish, an invasive marine predator that can slither over land, arrived in Washington almost a decade ago. He lifted the top of a nearby freezer chest, rooted around and pulled out a long, black lump. 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. ), 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. 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. Nearly all adults have a black dot surrounded with red or orange on the top part of the caudal (tail) fin. Amazonian water hyacinths clog Southern waterways. 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. 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. Most have blotches of dark scales flecked in white along the side of the body. “Out of eight species of salmon here, six are introduced,” Willink says. Tiny fish leapt out of the water as others lolled gracelessly on their backs, stunned, just below the surface. It’s hard to estimate the extent of the snakehead’s impact on largemouth bass and other Potomac species. Northern snakeheads can get up to three feet in length. “Listen, Norma,” the sheriff says. The recent discovery of northern snakehead in Maryland captured the attention of local, regional, and national leaders. Currently (October 2019), Georgia is dealing with a full-on invasion of snakehead fish. 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. One action that can be taken but is frowned upon is a tactic known as Rotenone. This fish prefers stagnant shallow ponds,swamps, or slow moving streams and rivers with mud substrate and aquatic vegetation. 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. It’s hard to predict what will happen, though. The most recent surprise appearance was this past October when a northern snakehead was pulled out of Lake Michigan. It is said that they will voraci… You can do that.”. 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. She nods, identifying it as her husband’s. After showing it off, Orrell shrugged, wrapped it up, laid it back in the freezer and washed his hands. Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Magazine Any of these invasive fish that are caught should be killed and disposed of properly or consumed. “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.