A ferocious invasive predator first made its appearance in the Metro area nine years ago, and it has taken that long to navigate its way into the northern sections of one of the largest river systems on the Atlantic Coast, the Potomac River.
Lester Thorton Jr., a local angler from Paeonian Springs, was fishing with friends April 25 near White’s Ferry when he hooked a Northern Snakehead on his line, the first catch of the species on the Potomac River north of Great Falls, according to fisheries officials in Virginia and Maryland.
Thorton’s catch was estimated at about 2-feet long.
Maryland Inland Fisheries Assistant Director Donald Cosden confirmed the species of the fish when the Times-Mirror sent him photos of the catch.
Thorton was intrigued by the fish and was looking forward to going home and tasting what is known as an Asian delicacy.
“I am going to go home and try it,” Thorton said.
“You are going to be trying it alone,” his friends said.
The Northern Snakehead fish first made an appearance in the D.C. area in 2002, when two were found in a Crofton, Md., pond.
All snakehead species are known for their sharp teeth, ferocious appetites and extensive reproduction.
“This would be the first collection we have seen above Great Falls,” Virginia Fisheries Biologist and snakehead expert John Odenkirk said. “We originally expected to find the growth of the species to be limited from the falls – due to its geographical landscape – all the way down to Colonial Beach, because of the salinity of the water there.
“However, we have found juveniles to be able to withstand that salinity and we have now seen the species down into the Chesapeake Bay,” Odenkirk said. “We were concerned about the C&O Canal system and if this is, in fact, a snakehead, that would be the odds-on favorite for its transport.”
Cosden noted the species really seems to move during high tides.
“They really seem to move during high water both upstream and downstream,” Cosden said. “We have found that these fish find their way over and through obstacles before, so this news, although disappointing, is not surprising.
“This catch opens a whole new territory for the fish,” Cosden said.
The Northern Snakehead fish, an invasive species native to Asia, has made its presence known in Northern Virginia and Maryland area since being discovered in a Crofton, Md. pond in 2002.
Their presence has also been felt in other states, particularly Florida.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the snakehead is a non-native air-breathing freshwater fish that is threatening to the native fish and wildlife resources and the economic sectors that depend on them.
Their impact on the ecosystems is a reflection of their presence as predators with extreme appetites.
At all life stages, the snakehead is a disruptive influence to an ecosystem.
According to the USFWS, as juveniles, snakeheads prey on zoo-plankton, insect larvae, small crustaceans and the eggs of other fish.
As adults, they become voracious predators, feeding upon other fish, crustaceans, frogs, small reptiles and sometimes birds and mammals.
Odenkirk noted the species are quick to grow and have an undetermined reproduction cycle.
“These fish grow rather rapidly and, based on the estimated length, it was probably about 3 years old,” Odenkirk said. “We are currently getting ready to enter their expected spawning season according to our research, and we are still trying to get an idea of how many times they reproduce in a cycle, because it could be more than once.”
Odenkirk said a research project is currently ongoing with three federal and state agencies in the D.C. area.
“We are catching them and killing them for research, as well as tagging and releasing some for other data on migration,” he said.
Odenkirk clarified what local anglers should do if they catch a snakehead.
“In the state of Virginia, it is unlawful to possess a snakehead,” Odenkirk said. “The only exception, is if it is dead.
“We ask that you report any captures to our snakehead hotline at (804) 367-2925,” Odenkirk said.
In Maryland, it is also against the law to possess a live snakehead, and Cosden said they urge anglers to kill the fish, if caught.
“An angler can possess the fish as long as they are dead, and there is a strict no-release policy with this fish,” Cosden said. “We ask anglers to take a photo of the fish and we have an anglers log online for them to post.
“They can also call and leave a message on my office phone at (410) 260-8287,” Cosden said.
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