05/16/08 — Northern Snakehead causing havoc

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Northern Snakehead causing havoc

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on May 16, 2008 4:00 PM

The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission is asking sportsmen in the Tar Heel state to be on the lookout for a problematic aquatic species.

On inland rivers, fishermen are being asked to report the catch of any Northern Snakehead fish. Native to both Africa and Asia, the Snakehead is especially dangerous due to it's predatory nature and frequency of disease.

The last reported catch of a Snakehead in North Carolina took place last year on south fork of the Catawba River. Since then no new reports have surfaced, but the possibility of subsequent catches have biologists on the lookout.

"When any non-native species is introduced, it can cause serious problems within the ecosystem," said wildlife biologist Laura Fogo. "The competition for food and habitat affects all species."

With a profile that is similar to a common Bowfin, the Snakehead is hard to spot. It has two major differences from the Bowfin that can be used by anglers for identification. A Snakehead has a long and narrow anal fin that is unique to the aquatic intruder.

The second is the shape of the head which is long and flat like that of a Northern Pike. A Bowfin has a round, more trout-like head.

Not only a problem within the inland river systems of North Carolina, the Northern Snakehead is also wreaking havoc in both Maryland and Virginia. Most notably in the Potomac river basin.

Wilson Laney, South Atlantic Fisheries Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, made note of the Snakehead's expansion within the mid-Atlantic states.

"It has not taken long to become a prevalent species," Laney said. "Biologists in the Potomac are catching Snakehead of all sizes, meaning they are reproducing pretty quickly."

Simply put, Snakehead can cause significant ecological problems.

"We definitely do not want them in North Carolina," Laney said. "If we catch one, odds are that there are more, and we need to stop them before they become established."

If fishermen spot a Snakehead in any North Carolina water, they are asked to keep and freeze the catch. They should immediately report it to the Wildlife Resource Commission.

Sportsmen should also note that it is illegal to transport, possess or sell live Snakehead in North Carolina. One theory regarding the Snakehead's introduction into the Catawba is that a live fish, bought at a market, was released into the river.