The Washington Times - April 1, 2009, 09:50PM

Maryland and Virginia fishery managers no longer are the only ones to face a potentially harmful critter that was discovered in the Potomac River in 2002 — the northern snakehead that is supposed to be at home in China, not in the U.S.

Now Arkansas has discovered the presence of this voracious predator in Big Piney Creek, a tributary to the White River. State and federal wildlife experts are more than a little concerned because of what this waterborne feeding machine might do to the native river inhabitants.

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The snakehead will try to eat just about anything that fits in its tooth-laden mouth and in the case of the White River and its feeder creeks that could include 16 amphibians, 115 different types of fish and five crustaceans. Not only that, the snakeheads can breed more than twice a year, which domestic fish species can´t do. And if that isn´t enough, imagine a fish that can actually travel across land for short distances if it finds its current home no longer to its liking.

With eventual deadly results to native, as well as unwanted Chinese fish species, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission currently is working to stop the spread of this prolific fish before it reaches the White River National Wildlife Refuge and the lower Mississippi Valley, 40 to 60 miles downstream from where it was first discovered, Nearly 200 miles of waterways and ponds will be sprayed with the chemicals rotenone and Antimycin A. The USFWS says the chemicals are toxic to fish, but residues in dead fish are not harmful to insects, birds, and mammals that eat them.

After the spraying is done, fish kill results will be monitored and treated waters will be restocked with traditional native species, such as largemouth bass, bluegills and channel catfish, when it´s safe to do so.

“We’re hopeful we can keep the fish from reaching the refuge,” said Dennis Sharp, manager of the White River Refuge. “We certainly do not want to see them established here. This opens the door to the whole lower Mississippi Valley.”

A federal biologist, Lindsey Lewis, hopes that the refuge´s habitat isn´t to the snakehead´s liking. “The habitat they prefer — shallow, swampy, and full of dense aquatic vegetation — is very different,” said Lewis. Further downstream toward the White River, the creek widens, becomes muddier and has less vegetation.

I have news for the good folks in Arkansas. Although the snakeheads in the Potomac River and some of its upper, tidal tributaries, show a preference for fairly shallow, murky ands quiet backwaters, they´ve also been caught by sport fishermen in the same terrain that largemouth bass enjoy, which isn´t always swampy and shallow. In other words, the snakeheads can adapt to a variety of situations.

 

 — Gene Mueller