- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006


Northern snakeheads aren’t indigenous to the Potomac. They come from Asia, where they are prized as table fare. However, according to Virginia biologist John Odenkirk, the snakehead has the potential to “disrupt native and naturalized fish communities that have economically valuable fisheries.” That means they could be bad news.

Locally, the snakehead species was first discovered in a Crofton, Md., pond in 2004. It was thought to have been eradicated with fish toxicants, but suddenly showed up in a Virginia tributary south of Washington. How it got there no one knows.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is busily electro-fishing for snakeheads, using a 5,000-watt generator mounted on a johnboat that makes use of a single anode with six droppers that look like a spindly-fingered, open hand on a skinny metal arm. The target areas include locations where snakehead catches and sighting have been reported: Little Hunting, Dogue, Accotink and Pohick creeks, as well as the Occoquan River.

Because the species prefers water of less than 6 feet deep, electro-fishing, seining, trap-netting and sport fishing with lures is done along channel margins and in tiny bays and coves, even in marinas. After it began several years ago, it soon became apparent the alien invader had established itself over an estimated 15-mile stretch of main-stem Potomac and several tributaries.

In 2004, 19 snakeheads were hooked on lures, caught in traps or were electro-shocked and studied but never returned to the water. Among the positively identified snakeheads there were adult, roe-bearing females. We don’t have to spell out what this means.

Anglers are reminded it’s against federal law to return a live snakehead to the water. It is also against Virginia and Maryland law to possess a live snakehead. As far as stomach contents of the fish are concerned, so far they’ve been dining mostly on white perch and gizzard shad.

If you catch a snakehead, kill it, then call 800/770-4951 (Virginia only); during weekday office hours call 540/899-4169. Also check the Virginia Web site, www.dgif.virginia.gov. In Maryland, get in touch with Bob Lunsford of Inland Fisheries at 410/260-8321, e-mail [email protected]

Gene Mueller

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