DNR Declares War on Scaly Foreign Envader
The Northern Snakehead has been in Maryland waters for nearly a decade and now the DNR is asking anglers to tackle this invasive species
It is not often that government agency tasked with managing the environment can declare all-out war on a single species. But when it does happen, it is usually to combat some kind of horrible invasive species like giant aquatic rats.
In April Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources announced a program to award fishermen who reel in northern snakehead fish.
For those unacquainted with what a snakehead is I recommend a viewing of the SyFy’s Snakehead Terror. Okay, so that film is about as accurate as the acting is believable. A much better visualization of this fish came from Animal Planet’s River Monsters.
The first time I have heard of this “Frankenfish” was its discovery in a Crofton pond in 2002. I was taking an ecology class in college and the discovery of this fish, naturally found in Asia, was a topical point of discussion for invasive species.
The subject of invasive species makes me nerd-out harder than a fanboy at Skywalker ranch. An invasive species, simply put, is any species of plant or animal that is introduced to an area to which it is not native and establishes itself successfully. These species move into a new area and out-compete the native flora and fauna for space and nutrients. They are basically the Kramer’s of the natural world.
What I find the most compelling about invasive species is how they got where they are.
Did you know starlings were introduced to Central Park in New York because some guy wanted the park to be the home of every bird written about by Shakespeare? They are considered a nuisance, they destroy crops and they have even caused at least one horrible aviation accident.
My favorite of all is Nutria, the aforementioned giant rats. They were brought to the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century from South America to be farmed for their fur. They escaped into the wild and have spread up the east coast. Now we have to worry about this happening.
The effectiveness at which they out-compete native species is the best illustrator to how perfect ecosystems have evolved naturally. It is the perverse that the only time we see how well designed something is when it begins to malfunction.
The snakeheads have all the trappings of a damaging invasive species. They are voracious predators and are believed to be able to out-compete and out-breed local fish. Oh, and they can walk on land and breathe air. You can see why they got the moniker of “Frankenfish.”
Unlike some of the hilarious examples of invasive species I listed above, there does not seem to be one pinpoint introduction event for snakeheads, which have been sighted in waters from Florida to Maine. The belief is that they were introduced from live fish markets and by people who owned them in their personal aquariums.
The chances of eradicating the snakeheads in Chesapeake tributaries are probably low. This effort to reward anglers who catch snakeheads will accomplish two important things. First, it will take some of these fish out of the water (I hear they are actually pretty good to eat). To qualify for rewards from the DNR, fishermen will have to record where they catch the species on the Angler’s Log website. By recording where these fish are caught, it will help the DNR determine the spread of snakeheads and get a clear picture of how big the problem can be.
It is not a perfect solution. But at least they are not attempting the same strategy used in Australia to combat the cane beetle. Now all you anglers, get out there and catch yourself a snakehead—just watch out for those teeth!