Single Northern Snakehead Fish Found in Wheaton Regional Park’s Pine Lake
M-NCPPC Will Drain Pond As a Precaution
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s (M-NCPPC) Montgomery County Department of Park and Planning and Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have confirmed that a fish caught in Wheaton Regional Park’s Pine Lake on Monday, April 26 is a Northern Snakehead, the same invasive non-native species as found in a pond in Crofton, Maryland in May 2002. As a result of this identification, and because a threat level cannot be determined, the M-NCPPC will drain the pond on April 29. Measures will be taken to preserve the native species of fish in the pond.
DNR made a positive identification of the fish the following day and began electrofishing at numerous areas in and below the lake to survey for the presence of additional fish. None were found, however, seining and electrofishing do not yield 100% certain results in determining the absence or presence of a certain species of fish. The Northern Snakehead poses no public safety or public health concern to citizens or anglers. It is an ecological threat only, and the level of threat in this case has not been determined.
To prevent escape of any fish from the five-acre lake, M-NCPPC crews have installed barrier screens at the inflow and outflow of the lake into Sligo Creek, a tributary of the Anacostia River.
M-NCPPC has also cancelled a scheduled trout fish re-stocking, originally set for today, April 28.
On Monday afternoon, a local fisherman thought he recognized the fish as an invasive species and brought it to Park Police Headquarters later that afternoon. Park Police called DNR and e-mailed a photo of the fish to them. DNR staff in Annapolis could not positively identify the species, however, until they inspected the fish in person and conducted an analysis on Tuesday at Park Police Headquarters.
M-NCPPC’s Montgomery County Acting Park Police Chief Nathaniel Barber assures residents and park visitors, “Northern Snakehead fish are not dangerous to people or animals. We are prohibiting fishing in the lake for the time being. Other than that, families can feel free to enjoy the park as they usually do. We’re taking quick and decisive action to protect the lake and the ecosystem.”
If a suspected Northern Snakehead is found or caught, residents should destroy the fish or take it to a qualified person who can determine if it is indeed a Northern Snakehead. Any fish suspected to be a Northern Snakehead is not to be put back into any body of water.
The Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) is native to China and Korea and is illegally imported from Japan. Snakeheads (several species in addition to Northern Snakeheads) are sold in the United States as food and as aquarium fish. It may be possible that the fish found in Pine Lake was an aquarium fish which had gotten too large to be kept as a pet and was released. Northern Snakeheads, which can grow as large as 47 inches and 15 pounds, are aggressive predators, which feed on fish, frogs, and crustaceans. Because of their predatory nature, large size, and because they have no natural predators in Maryland, they have the potential to have a significant negative impact on native fish and other aquatic species. The Northern Snakehead poses no public safety or public health concern to citizens or anglers. It is an ecological threat only. The species has the potential to eliminate native freshwater organisms, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, and insects.
Northern Snakeheads are popular in the aquarium industry and fresh fish industry, and they are used within some Asian cultures for medicinal purposes. The species is considered an invasive species in the United States. The import of the Northern Snakehead into the United State has been banned. However, interstate transport of these fish in the U.S. is still occurring.
The species is noted for its ability to prevail in conditions that would kill most fish species. Northern Snakeheads can exist in waters consisting of low dissolved oxygen levels, in water temperatures extremely low and extremely high, and in some cases have been known to exist for several days in the muddy substrate of dry lake beds. In addition, under extremely stressful conditions, the species has been known to maneuver over land for short distances in search of a new/better habitat.
The species has a voracious appetite and a high reproductive rate. In very little time, the species can have a devastating impact on native freshwater organisms. These fish spawn beginning in mid-May and this spawning can occur throughout the summer months. Fish can spawn several times per season. Each spawn may yield between 100 and 1,000 young.
Wheaton Regional Park, a 536-acre facility, includes Brookside Gardens, Brookside Nature Center, Adventure Playground, Wheaton Station’s miniature train and carousel, the Frank Rubini Athletic Complex (numerous baseball and softball fields, Wheaton Ice Arena, In-line Skating Rink, Indoor Tennis Center), the Commission’s first dog exercise area, hiking and horse trails, and conservation areas, as well as Pine Lake.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission encourages the participation of all individuals in its programs and facilities. For assistance with special needs, such as large print materials, sign language interpretation, listening devices, etc., please contact Marion Joyce, 301-495-4600, TTY 301-495-1331 or the Maryland Relay Service, 1-800-735-2258.
Posted April 16, 2004