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Entries in northern snakehead (3)


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: