In early April, anglers caught several northern snakehead fish from private ponds in Wicomico and Queen Anne’s counties. While surveying the pond in Wicomico County, Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologists found three more adult snakeheads. A DNR survey of the Queen Anne’s County pond turned up seven more, including subadult fish, which suggests that snakeheads are reproducing there.
“Thanks to these anglers, who appropriately killed the invasive fish and reported their catches to DNR’s Fisheries Service, we can use this data to determine where they came from and update our management strategies accordingly,” said Joe Love, DNR fisheries biologist. “We suspect that the fish may have been illegally introduced to at least one of these sites because it’s a neighborhood pond normally disconnected from Wicomico River.”
It is illegal in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware to move, possess or release live snakeheads because these jurisdictions, along with the federal government, consider them an invasive or nuisance species. The penalty for possessing a live snakehead or introducing one into Maryland waters can reach $25,000 and 30 days in jail. Transporting invasive fish across state lines without a federal permit is a Lacey Act violation, and the penalty can reach $250,000 and up to five years in jail.
Northern snakeheads, which are from China, breed rapidly and prey on native fish. In abundance, they can upset the local ecological balance. The species was first discovered in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 2002 in a Crofton pond. Since then, the population has spread throughout the tidal Potomac River and more recently to the Patuxent, Nanticoke, Wicomico and Blackwater rivers. They were discovered in a couple of Delaware ponds several years ago. Fisheries biologists are concerned that the species will soon spread to the Choptank River and the Susquehanna Flats.
DNR encourages anglers to kill any snakeheads they catch, and to report any catches in Maryland outside of the tidal Potomac River to firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-260-8325.
“Snakeheads are a popular food fish in Asia,” said Love. “And while they may not look appetizing, they are delicious, which is something to consider if you catch one.”
To raise awareness and help control the population spread of invasive fish, DNR added an Invasive Species Award category to its annual Maryland Fishing Challenge. Anglers who catch a qualifying northern snakehead, blue catfish or flathead catfish are eligible to win prizes. Qualifying fish must be caught using legal recreational fishing methods, including rod and reel, bow and arrow, trotline, jugs, and spear. The fish must also be killed.
There are three ways to qualify:
- Angler Award: Anglers who catch a fish meeting the minimum award sizes: snakehead-30;” flathead catfish-34;” blue catfish-40;” and take their catch to an Angler Award Center (participating tackle shops) for confirmation and Maryland Fishing Challenge entry ticket.
- State Record: Anglers who set a new Maryland state record will automatically be entered. Call 443-569-1381 to report a potential record. Click here for full rules and procedures.
- Maryland Angler’s Log: Anglers who post their catch to the Maryland Anglers Log will receive automatic entry. Participants can simply email a photo and report to email@example.com.