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Entries in northern snakehead (4)


Snakehead a Concern in Arkansas, as Well as Potomac

Although the Potomac receives most of the notoriety for its snakehead population, some Arkansas waters have them as well. And that has prompted Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGF) to begin a new monitoring program that it hopes will help keep the population in check.

"We need to refresh our information on exactly what species are in these areas and what the population dynamics are before the snakehead populations grow to cause any sort of impact," said Jimmy Barnett, AGF aquatic nuisance species program coordinator." "These baseline data will be critical in future management of the fisheries and the fight against invasives."

According to Barnett, biologists are concerned about the possible impact that the exotic predator is having on bass and other native fish. To find out what is going on, the agency will conduct in-depth fisheries profiles of about 40 sites in eastern Arkansas.

Back in the spring of 2008, a breeding population of northern snakeheads was found there in ditches and near an irrigation pump. Worried that they would spread into waterways connected to the White, Arkansas, St. Francis, and Mississippi Rivers, resource managers quickly applied rotenone, killing about 100 of the invasive predators and collecting 55 specimens for live study. AGF also  attempted to eradicate the fish with  the Piney Creeks drainage near Brinkley. But occasional reports still surface of someone catching or seeing a snakehead there.

"Snakeheads have spread slowly since their introduction, but the last three years in a row, we've seen them expand their range," Barnett said. "They once were only found in one of our fisheries districts, but now we're seeing them reach out to the edges of three other districts."

Barnett says the recent prolonged flooding in east Arkansas and the drainages connecting the White, Cache, and Arkansas Rivers may have increased the speed at which the species has spread.

"There have been a lot of sloughs and ditches that have had water in them for a longer period of time that could have helped the species reach new areas," Barnett said.

Anglers can help in the fight against snakeheads by continuing to kill any they catch and reporting them to the regional AGF office nearest the body of water where it was found.

"People should take a picture of the fish for positive identification, and try to keep the fish until they've talked to a biologist about it," Barnett said. "A native species, the bowfin, looks similar to the snakehead, so we want to verify these sightings to help paint an accurate picture of the species' expansion."

Snakeheads likely were introduced into Arkansas waters by a fish farmer, who intended to raise the exotic fish commercially before their possession became illegal. Upon the advice of state and federal officials, he decided to kill the fish by removing them from his ponds and dumping them on levees. Unfortunately, snakeheads can live for several hours out of water and even crawl to water, which probably is what happened.


Snakehead is Carrier of LMBV

Scientists have confirmed the presence of Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV) in northern snakeheads taken from two Potomac River tributaries.

That might seem a positive development for those who view the exotic predator as a threat to bass and other native fish. After all, LMBV killed thousands of bass during the late 1990s and early 2000s; now maybe it will do the same to snakeheads.

But that’s not a foregone conclusion. The virus doesn’t always turn into a deadly disease. As a result, researchers caution that snakeheads simply could be carriers for spreading LMBV to bass throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, especially since the two share similar habitats.

“The virus has been found in bass, sunfish, and other fish species, but largemouth bass is the only species known to develop disease from it,” reported the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

USGS and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries made the discovery while studying snakeheads for possible pathogens. Until now, little has been known about what diseases this introduced predator might carry and/or be susceptible to.

In 2011, though, researchers found bass with LMBV in all 16 bodies of water tested in Virginia, except the tidal James River.

“The long-term and population-level effects of Largemouth Bass Virus on bass inhabiting these rivers are unknown,” added Luke Iwanowicz, a USGS research biologist.

Meanwhile, efforts to control the spread of snakeheads have been unsuccessful, the USGS pointed out, with scientists predicting they likely will expand their range.


Snakehead Terror a Reality?

Northern snakehead of world-record proportions. Family photo via Washington Post.

Those sci-fi movies depicting snakehead fish of man-eating proportions might not be so far-fetched after all.

Juan Duran recently caught a northern snakehead weighing 18 pounds, 4 ounces in the Occoquan River, a tributary of the Potomac. Current world record for that species is 17-4.

Virginia biologist John Odenkirk says the Potomac system now is home to a healthy population of the exotic predatory fish.

"The numbers of fish out there seem to be increasing, although it was flat last year for the first time since I've been doing surveys and since 2004. So we're not sure if that was an anomaly," he adds.

Meanwhile, Canadians are fearful of snakeheads becoming established in their waters. A man in Burnaby, British Columbia, says that he recently videotaped a snakehead in a park pond as he and his son were feeding fish.

“At first I didn’t know what it was, and as I zoomed in I realized it was a snakehead,” says the man.

“Of all the invasive species I might be worried about for B.C., the snakehead would make the top 10 list,” says Matthias Herborg, an aquatic invasive species expert with the provincial Ministry of Environment.


Snakeheads: Where Will they Slither to Next?


The northern snakehead is among the next wave of invasive species that threatens the Great Lakes, according to a team of university and government researchers. Unheard of in U.S. waters during 2001, this predator now is established in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York waters, and poses an increasing threat to the aquatic health of Chesapeake Bay, which faces a host of other assaults as well. 

“I think this one is coming,” said research scientist Ed Rutherford. “People will bring them in live for the aquarium trade. It’s also been found in live markets around Toronto.”



Meanwhile, my friend Capt. Steve Chaconas, a Potomac River guide, has been watching the snakehead's progress since the beginning. He emphasizes that a catch-and-kill strategy still is necessary, but points out that the catch-and-release ethic of many anglers is beginning to complicate management of this invasive.

Here's his assessment of the situation: