Watch out for invasive Northern Snakehead fish |
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Mary Ann Thomas

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is warning anglers to kill and report an invasive fish known as the Northern Snakehead.

There are no records of the Northern Snakehead in the three rivers in Southwestern Pennsylvania, according to Doug Fischer, non-game fisheries biologist with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in Bellefonte.

In Pennsylvania, the invasive fish, native to parts of Russia, China and most of Korea, has not been confirmed as established above the Conowingo Dam on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border about 50 miles northeast of Baltimore, according to Fischer.

“The take-home message is not to release the fish here,” he said.

The only way the fish would be found in the Pittsburgh area is if some angler was doing “armchair stocking” because the fish is known to taste good, or through ceremonial release or the pet trade, Fischer said.

State law regulates invasive species and no one is allowed to possess or transport invasive species, including the Northern Snakehead.

If an angler catches one in a new area, they are asked to kill it, take photos, put in the freezer and call the fish and boat commission.

The Northern Snakehead sometimes resembles the native Bowfin. Anglers are encouraged to learn the difference between the two species by visiting this Fish and Boat Commission’s webpage.

Northern Snakeheads not only are aggressive but grow large to just shy of 3 feet.

“From a life history standpoint, they are voracious,” Fischer said.

“They feed almost exclusively on fish and not only do they eat large quantities of fish, but they can out compete other fish with the same feeding strategies,” he said.

The fear is that the Northern Snakehead could reduce the abundance or condition of desirable species such as bass.

The state’s first record of a Northern Snakehead was in 2004 in Philadelphia, according to Fischer. In 2017, the commission started getting reports of the Snakehead in the Susquehanna basin, and now the entire upper Chesapeake Bay has the fish.

They are prolific, reproducing multiple times during spring and summer.

Their preferred habitat is slow moving water with vegetation and muddy bottoms, according to Fischer.

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