Snakehead Archive

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Updates on the Northern Snakehead Fish in Maryland
by Eric Schwaab, Director,
Maryland DNR Fisheries Service

August 2002
juvenile snakehead photo We are preparing to move forward to control the population of northern snakeheads in a small Crofton pond. While we take this situation very seriously and believe that it merits swift and decisive action, the media attention in recent weeks focused on the issue has been nothing short of amazing. The positive coming from it all has been a poignant reminder that we all share a responsibility to take great care in what we purposefully or accidentally release into our natural systems.

Regarding the problem at hand, a panel of scientific experts recommended treatment of the pond first with herbicide to eliminate the existing thick vegetation, then follow that with application of a commonly use fish toxin. The plant life will recover quickly, and steps will be taken to restore native fish life after we are confident that snakehead fish have been eradicated. Secretary Fox accepted the panel's recommendation and we expect to initiate implementation very soon.

As we move through snakehead response, we set our sights on other pressing business at hand. Among those issues is Amendment 6 to the Atlantic coastal striped bass management plan. We soon anticipate the release of the public draft of the amendment, which will be subject to public hearings up and down the coast in September. Amendment 6, to be developed and adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, will govern management of the Atlantic coast population striped bass and establish standards for each state to meet in its management program. All interested fishermen are encouraged to participate in review and comment of this important document. Watch our web site for updates and meeting locations.

July 2002
The northern snakehead is all anyone wants to talk about. For those unaware, the snakehead is a top-level predator fish native to China. In late June we received a picture from an alert angler, Paul DiMauro who caught the unusual fish in a small pond in Crofton. Since those initial reports, additional reports of encounters, and one catch by another angler, Joe Gillespie of Crofton, confirmed the presence of more than one northern snakehead in the pond.

Since that time, we have worked to assess the scope of the problem and the threat posed by this non-native fish, considered various options for eradication of the fish from the pond, and generally worked with the media to separate fact from the growing fiction surrounding the fish. In the end, our goal will be to eliminate the threat to our native fish populations and use the attention brought to bear by this event to remind people of the dangers associated with careless introductions of non-native species into our waterways.

Like many other non-native species, the snakehead has the potential to disturb functioning natural ecosystems. As a top-level predator it can quickly impact local fish populations through predation or displacement. While many non-native species can spread rapidly, impacting an ever-broadening area (think of zebra mussels, gypsy moths and mute swans to name a few) the snakehead's ability to spread is limited by its mobility and habitat requirements. Although it has been reported as a walking fish, the real threat is its ability to live for days out of water and potentially wallow its way to other water bodies, or be spread by human intervention or flood. While there is a concern that it could spread to the nearby Patuxent River system, there is no evidence that such spread has occurred. Additionally, the species is not tolerant of salinity, so it is unlikely to threaten broad areas of the Chesapeake Bay region.

As for control, our ultimate goal is eradication as expediently as possible. To accomplish that result with certainty requires careful consideration of various options. Given the thick vegetation in the pond and the biology of the snakehead, immediate options are limited. Traditional electro-shocking techniques and large scale netting operations would have to wait for the vegetation to clear. Other even more aggressive techniques like poison, or even draining the pond, can not achieve the desired results with certainty at this point, and if not done correctly could lead to other undesirable consequences or increase the threat of spread of the fish.

At this point our intention is to conduct a thorough threat analysis, continue assessment and monitoring of the population of snakeheads in the pond, and evaluate various eradication options to be employed both now and later this year when vegetation clears naturally from the pond. We have also requested assistance form local fishermen, asking them to retain and kill any snakeheads they catch, and notify us as soon as possible.

Perhaps most importantly, this situation again points out the responsibility we all share to refrain from purposeful release of fish to our waterways and to take great care to prevent even accidental introductions of non-native bait, plants or other species when we go fishing. The northern snakehead is only the most recent example of a long list of species of concern.

Thanks for your help and support.

Contact Information:

  • Media Contact: Office of Public Communications, 410-260-8020