Outdoor Journal

Snakeheads on the march?: The northern snakehead was all the talk five years ago when it reared its toothy head in the greater Washington, D.C., area. In time the media frenzy subsided, but reports about the exotic fish keep filing in.

Last week, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission reported that in May one was caught from—and subsequently released back into—the Catawba River. The well-meaning angler who hooked the snakehead (which was a not-inconsiderable 31 inches long and 13 pounds heavy) thought it was a bowfin, a native but no less weird-looking species.

Experts say the best way to distinguish a snakehead from a bowfin is to examine the anal fin (or have a friend do it for you), located just in front of the fish’s tail. A snakehead has a long anal fin, which is more than half the length of the dorsal or back fin, with 18 rays. The bowfin’s anal fin is shorter, less than half the length of the dorsal fin, with 12 rays.

Commission officials tell us that “biologists won’t speculate as to how the snakehead reportedly got into the river, although most introductions are made when people illegally keep them as pets or purchase them live from fish markets and then release them.”  You know the old saying: “Yesterday’s dim sum, today’s invasive species.” The commission says anglers play a vital role in monitoring state waters for the presence, and potential spread, of the exotic fish.

Visit www.ncwildlife.org to get your snakehead sleuthing skills on.

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