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Entries in snakehead (12)


Snakeheads Growing Bigger, Spreading Farther Up the Potomac

Dan Moon caught this monster snakehead on a Booyah spinnerbait.

As state and federal resource managers revealed that the northern snakehead has spread into the Upper Potomac River, a local angler provided yet more evidence that these exotic predatory fish grow larger here than anywhere else in the world. That's a potential double whammy for bass and other native species.

"Part of the reason we should be worried about it is we don't really know what the impacts are going to be," said Joe Love, tidal bass program manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). "We do know that, in some cases, invasive species cost millions of dollars in damage to the ecosystem."

With the population of snakeheads in the tidal Potomac now an estimated 20,000, one concern  is that  aggressive snakeheads will outcompete bass for food, a fear that is heighted by the fact that they are growing to world-record proportions. In late June, Dan Moon boated the latest giant, which weighed 18.8 pounds on an uncertified scale.  The official world record checked in at 17-12, and was caught last year within two miles of where Moon caught his fish.

With both adult snakeheads and fry confirmed in the C&O canal above Great Falls, it seems almost certain that the invaders will spread up the non-tidal Potomac, as well as into its tributaries.

"Eradication is not possible once these fish become established in an open river system such as the Potomac," said MDNR biologist John Mullican. "We expect that these fish will eventually become a permanent part of the Upper Potomac fish community. Confronting snakeheads in the canal system is the best way to mitigate their emigration into the Upper Potomac.

Consequently, Maryland is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service to develop control strategies.

MDNR emphasized that the snakehead can be caught legally in any season and at any size. "We'd like it to be harvested if anyone catches it," Love said. "We'd like it if they took it home and possibly ate it. Anglers and archers enjoy fishing for them, which is great. And they enjoy eating them, which is great."


Exotic Catfish Are in Our Waters Too

Asian carp are the exotic fish species that we hear the most about, but plenty of others are established in our waters as well, mostly because of an under-regulated exotic pet industry and irresponsible aquarium owners. Clinton Richardson recently caught this unusual catfish while fishing the lower Susquehanna River.  Biologists identified it as a hybrid catfish from the aquarium trade, a cross between a redtail catfish and a tiger shovelnose catfish. Both grow large in their native South America.

"Irresponsible aquarium owners continue to introduce exotic and at times invasive fish to our waterways when their pet fish become too large or they tire of them," noted the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "The introduction of the northern snakehead is a perfect example."

The big question now is whether climate is too cold for such exotic catfish to establish breeding populations that far north, if they haven't already.

USGS photo

In Florida, meanwhile, the suckermouth armored catfish, also from South America, is firmly entrenched over much of the peninsula. And almost certainly it came from the aquarium trade as well, as it often is labeled a "plecostomus" or "algae eater."

The burrows that they make for spawning likely cause or exacerbate erosion on shorelines of canals and rivers, although no quantitative data is available on that. Additionally, they have been observed browsing on the algae that frequently grows on the backs of manatees.

"Manatee responses varied widely; some did not react visibly to attached catfish whereas others appeared agitated and attempted to dislodge the fish. The costs and/or benefits of this interaction to manatees remain unclear," said the U.S. Geological Survey.


Monster Silver Carp Suggests Nightmarish Future Awaits Anglers, Native Species

What will happen to fisheries nationwide and even to outdoor recreation in general as Asian carp continue to spread, reproduce, and outcompete native species? We’ve just received a glimpse of a nightmarish possibility from Kentucky Lake, where angler Bill Schroeder foul-hooked and landed a 106-pound silver carp.

Although I’ve been unable to confirm it, I suspect that’s the largest silver carp taken in the United States, and possibly even the world. Experts say maximum weight for the exotic fish is about 60 pounds. And even now, the Tennessee state record for the silver carp, caught in 2013 on Kentucky Lake, was just 14 pounds, 13 ounces.

What’s going on? Silver carp like it here. So do bighead carp. Typically a larger fish, its maximum weigh is about 90 pounds. But in 2011, an angler targeting paddlefish hooked and landed a 106-pound specimen at Lake of the Ozarks.

And the exotic lionfish likes it here too. As it spreads all across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast, anglers are catching larger and larger specimens of this voracious predator. In its native range, it grows to 12 to 15 inches. Just a few days ago, one was caught off in the Florida Keys that measured nearly 19 inches.

Why are these exotics growing to horror-movie size proportions in our waters? Because they are exotic species, they have no “natural” predators, as they do in their native ranges. And they’re feasting on an abundance of food in our relatively fertile and healthy waters. By contrast, Asian carp struggle to survive in their native range because of pollution and overfishing.

Will the same happen with the Burmese python in the Everglades? Introduced to the wild by an irresponsible and little-regulated pet industry, it is now gobbling up native mammals and reptiles, and likely will expand its range into more developed areas. Will it grow to unprecedented size as well?

Now consider this: Asian carp are schooling fish. Frightened by disturbances on the surface, silver carp often go airborne, striking and injuring anglers and other boaters.

But the fish we see in videos of these airborne attacks usually weigh no more than 10 or 15 pounds. Imagine dozens of 100-pound silver carp taking flight all around you as you motor to your favorite fishing hole.

Of course, no one thought about such possibilities when the carp were imported by aquaculture facilities during the 1970s. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that we really started worrying about them crowding out native species in our rivers.

And then there’s the snakehead . . . 


More Appetizing Name Sought for Snakehead

Clients catch snakeheads as well as bass with guide Steve Chaconas on the Potomac River. Click on the photo to visit his website.

“Snakeheads are considered a good eating fish but who wants to order snakehead for dinner? 

“The Charles County Commissioners invite citizens to participate in a Snakehead Naming Contest. Beginning at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 7, go here and submit ideas for a new and improved name for the snakehead fish . . .

 “The first phase of the Snakehead Naming Contest runs for 30 days from Tuesday, Jan. 7, through Thursday, Feb. 6. At the end of phase one, a panel of judges will select three entries to move forward in the contest.

 “The second phase of the Snakehead Naming Contest begins Tuesday, Feb. 18, and ends Thursday, March 20. During this time, the public will be able to vote online for one of the three selected entries. Prizes will be awarded to three individuals whose entries receive the most votes.

“The final, winning name will be sent to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in hopes that the state will consider the name as the Snakehead’s new, ‘official’ name.”

 From Chesapeake Current


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.