- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

A 12-inch northern snakehead fish caught in a creek in Northern Virginia has state biologists working to determine whether the Asian species has spread to other water sources.

“We’re going to keep our eyes open for more snakeheads during our routine monitoring of warm water streams,” John Odenkirk, a fisheries biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), said yesterday.

Mr. Odenkirk’s comments come after an angler on Friday caught the snakehead in Little Hunting Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River near Mount Vernon. The angler, Robert Hinds Jr., of Kentwood, La., reported his finding to the VDGIF, which confirmed Monday that the fish is a northern snakehead.

“It’s not likely that there was only one fish and it happened to get caught, but it is possible,” Mr. Odenkirk said. “We’re monitoring for more snakeheads, but there’s no way of knowing what water bodies they are in. Hopefully they aren’t anywhere else in Virginia.”

Julia Dixon, a spokeswoman for the VDGIF, said state officials have not found any more snakeheads in the creek.

The snakehead, which can slither short distances along land on its fins, poses an ecological threat. Several snakeheads were found two years ago in a private pond in Crofton, Md.

Mr. Odenkirk said the most frequently used method of monitoring snakeheads is electrofishing. During the process, a boat with electrical equipment stuns all the fish in the water and pulls them toward the boat. Biologists use trawls, gill nets, trap nets and seines to scoop the fish out of the water.

Snakeheads have threatened to completely alter local ecological systems by competing with similar fish for food.

“The threat of any exotic [species] is that it disrupts the natural food web,” Mr. Odenkirk said.

Miss Dixon said the crew that surveyed Little Hunting Creek found 25 species of fish, but no snakeheads.

“We’re going to keep monitoring the area,” Miss Dixon said. “If someone still owns a snakehead fish, they need to come into compliance with the law. We do not want individuals who own snakeheads illegally to release them into the wild.”

Miss Dixon said it is unlikely the snakehead caught in Virginia migrated from Maryland. “So far we don’t have any indication that there’s an established population in Virginia waters,” she said. “But we can’t know for certain. It could have been an aquarium fish that was dumped, but it could have come from anywhere.”

Exotic species like snakeheads can disrupt the natural aquatic system by feeding on smaller fish, frogs and even ducks. They can potentially out-compete other fish for food and can introduce parasites into the water which could affect other fish and people.

“We just don’t know,” Miss Dixon said of the effects.

Earlier this month, Maryland officials drained Pine Lake at Wheaton Regional Park in Wheaton after a fisherman caught a 19-inch female northern snakehead there April 26. State officials did not find any other snakeheads in that lake.

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

They are imported into the United States for food and as aquarium fish. The fish is banned nationwide from outdoor waterways but ownership is permitted.

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