Why the Snakehead Fish is So Dangerous


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With sharp teeth and the ability to survive on land, the northern snakehead fish sounds like something straight out of a Halloween horror movie. Native to Asia, this fish is not usually a creature we worry about in the U.S. However, that could be changing—the fish was spotted for the first time in Georgia last week. 

The northern snakehead is considered to be an invasive species; and as a top predator, it has the ability to upend the natural balance of an aquatic environment by competing with native species for food and resources. For this reason, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is taking the fish’s threat very seriously. 

“We are now taking steps to determine if they have spread from this water body and, hopefully, keep it from spreading to other Georgia waters,” said Matt Thomas, chief of fisheries for the Department’s Wildlife Resources Division.

The Wildlife Resources Division advises anglers to learn how to identify the northern snakehead fish. Long and thin, it can grow up to 3 ft. in length and has a dark brown, blotchy coloring as well as a long dorsal fin that runs along its whole back. 

If a fisherman does catch a northern snakehead, they should not release it and instead kill it immediately. They should freeze it and take pictures of it with closeups of the mouth, fins and tail. Most importantly, they should make note of where they caught it and report it to their local fisheries office.

It is not currently known how the northern snakehead made its way to Georgia, though the fish has been previously reported in 14 other states. With past occurrences of northern snakeheads in the U.S., extreme measures have had to be taken including draining and even poisoning water sources. In a case in Maryland, it was found that a man had purchased the northern snakehead fish and then dumped them in a pond.

Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Department advises fish owners to dispose of aquarium animals and plants in the garbage—not in bodies of water—in order to prevent the spread of invasive species. 

 

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