Invasive Fish Make Their Way Up Potomac River

It seems somewhat sadly ironic that at the same time states have struggled to get Federal officials to take the issue of Asian Carp seriously as a threat to the Great Lakes, the northern snakehead is now making its way up the Potomac River.  Let’s just hope that the Maryland DNR’s characterization of this “angling opportunity” does not end up confusing the issue and the devastation being caused to native fish populations.

By Miguel Llanos,


Flustered by the northern snakehead, a fish from Asia that’s devouring smaller, native bass and other species as it spreads along the Potomac River and other parts of the Chesapeake watershed, Maryland is trying to recruit fishermen to fight the fish.

As a lure, state officials are highlighting the fighting prowess of the northern snakehead as well as its “dense, meaty” taste and, more recently, even throwing in some cash prizes.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources has put together a video describing the war on snakeheads and how to kill them: basically decapitate the fish, gut it or remove its gills.

“We’re asking anglers to kill northern snakehead wherever they catch them,” DNR staffer Joe Love says in the video, “and we need to remind you guys that it is against federal and state law to transport northern snakehead alive.”

Maryland officials don’t have a solid estimate on the number of snakeheads in the state’s waters, but the fish are widespread along the Potomac less than a decade after the first reports.

Neighboring Virginia and a dozen other states across the U.S. are also seeing snakeheads in some of their waters. The fish is popular in Asia as food, and experts surmise the introduction of the fish to U.S. waters is due to people intentionally putting them in so they can fish them out later.

Maryland has used electroshock treatment to kill snakeheads when they’ve been found grouped in large numbers, but Love told that he doesn’t expect to win the war — just hopefully contain the impact.

“The staff, time, and supplies necessary for eradication of snakehead … are simply not available,” he said. “The campaign now has largely been directed at limiting their spread.”

“In my opinion, the best method of removal is getting anglers aware of the problem and having them kill the fish when caught,” he added.

According to a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report, Maryland has been the most aggressive state in the battle against snakeheads. “The snakeheads rise to the lures like the Loch Ness Monster!” according to a testimonial in the state’s 2012 fishing guide: “What a blast!”

And a seafood marketing flyer describes the snakehead as a “dense, meaty, flaky textured fish with a sweet aftertaste.”

Then there’s the chance to win prizes. Three lucky fishermen who post photos of their dead snakeheads on the DNR website’s Angler’s Log will have their names drawn to receive a $200 gift card, a state park pass or a fishing license.

About Northern Michigan Conservation Network

The mission of the Northern Michigan Conservation Network is to "connect conservation-minded hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to those issues affecting Michigan's forests, waters, and wildlife."

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