- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A fisherman snagged another snakehead in the Potomac River, bringing the total number of the exotic fish caught in the Washington area this year to 18.

The unidentified fisherman was casting a spinner bait between boat slips at a marina on Dogue Creek in Fairfax County when he caught the fish Saturday morning, officials with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) said.

The fish was about 19 inches long. Its sex and age had not yet been determined, officials said.

Authorities have been fighting to keep the aggressive, Asian northern snakehead from inhabiting local waterways. Northern snakeheads — with razor-sharp teeth and fins that serve as legs — can dominate an ecosystem by eating or pushing out other species of native fish.

“There is no doubt, they will change the environment,” said Julia Dixon, a spokeswoman for VDGIF.

Scientists have focused their snakehead hunt on a 14-mile stretch of the Potomac below the District. Several of the 18 snakeheads were taken from Dogue Creek, which borders Fort Belvoir.

Miss Dixon said there are no natural predators in the Washington area to control the prolific fish. “They haven’t caused damage in China, where they are from, because they have natural predators there,” she said.

The snakeheads are native to China and Korea, where they are considered a culinary delicacy.

In Virginia, it is illegal to own a snakehead without a permit issued by the VDGIF, and federal law prohibits the importation of snakeheads as well as the interstate transport of them.

So far, several of the female fish caught in the Potomac have been carrying eggs, but they had not spawned. “We still have no evidence that the fish are breeding,” Miss Dixon said.

Snakeheads can grow up to 40 inches and weigh up to 15 pounds. So far, the largest caught in the Potomac weighed 6 pounds.

The VDGIF asks anyone who finds a snakehead not to release it but to kill it humanely and get it on ice as quickly as possible. Department officials want fishermen to call them immediately so they can send the fish to the Smithsonian Institution for genetic testing.

The fisherman who caught the latest snakehead turned it in at the marina, which contacted the game department. The fish was sent to the department’s Fredericksburg office for evaluation.

A snakehead was first discovered in the Potomac watershed May 7. A fisherman caught a 19-inch female at Pine Lane at Wheaton Regional Park on April 26. Maryland officials drained the lake but did not find any other snakeheads there.

The fish was first discovered in the United States two years ago in a pond in Crofton, Md. More than 1,000 juvenile snakeheads and six adults were recovered when state officials poisoned the pond and two others nearby to keep the fish from spreading.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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