- The Washington Times - Friday, June 25, 2004

Wildlife officials yesterday caught an eighth northern snakehead in a Potomac River tributary, leading them to suspect the predatory fish are breeding and here to stay.

“We’ve had reproduction for some time in the system,” said John Odenkirk, a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “It’s nowhere close to what we’ll see pretty soon.”

He said the discovery of a 6-year-old snakehead last week suggests the fish are now a permanent part of the ecosystem.

Two were caught this week, including one yesterday in Dogue Creek , a Potomac tributary that borders Fort Belvoir, a Maryland official said. Officials did not provide details about its size or age. One found Wednesday was about 3 years old, 15 inches long and pregnant with thousands of eggs.

“It was ready to spawn any day,” Mr. Odenkirk said.

He also said the aggressive, Asian-bred northern snakehead — with razor-sharp teeth and fins that serve as legs— probably will not overrun the ecosystem. He instead suspects it will compete with fish at the lower levels of the food chain, which will result in long-term population changes.

“It will be subtle at first,” he said. “But in 10 years, looking back, it might jump out at you.”

Bob Lunsford, a biologist with the Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, said snakeheads have the ability to produce and protect large numbers of their young.

The snakehead scare in the region started in 2002 when they were discovered in a Crofton, Md., pond. Officials poisoned the 4-acre pond. Of the more than 1,000 snakeheads found, only six or seven were adults.

A mature northern snakehead also was found in a Potomac tributary April 26.

Officials found a 19-inch fish in Pine Lake in Wheaton Regional Park, which gets most of its water from Sligo Creek, a tributary of the Anacostia River. The river is a tributary of the Potomac River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Officials determined the fish was a 4-year-old female in the early stages of producing eggs but yet to spawn.

Snakeheads are natives of China and Korea. They have been illegally imported from Japan as food and for aquariums. Northern snakeheads can grow as large as 47 inches and weigh up to 15 pounds.

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