Snakehead Monitoring

Many of us recall the sideshow atmosphere created in 2002 when the first Maryland snakehead fish was confirmed in that pond in Crofton. In 2011, the first snakehead was caught near the mouth of the Patuxent River and by 2012 three were caught in the Jug Bay area. The Northern Snakehead, Channa argus, has literally become Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) poster child for the threats of non-native invasive species.

A Northern Snakehead fish guarding it's nest.
A Northern Snakehead guards it's young.

That being said, the Northern Snakehead is a remarkable fish. Native to the Yangtze River basin, they wear a black blotched camouflage pattern on their bodies, have enlarged scales on their elongated face which give them their name, and can reach three feet in length. They can also breathe air and survive out of water for several days if their skin stays moist. Their fins however, do not support overland movements. They are good eating. Snakeheads were originally brought to the US for the food market, and that’s how the Maryland infestation started.

The fish was assigned “injurious wildlife status” after the 2002 incident and an education campaign was launched. By 2006, research organizations had partnered to assess the new breeding population in the Potomac River and its tributaries. The data are staggering. Since 2006, snakehead distribution on the Potomac River has rapidly increased. The DNR Tidal Bass Program found that: the number of sites with snakeheads has doubled to nearly 40% from 2010 to 2012; the relative abundance of snakeheads has doubled in most years; and at least 1290 snakeheads have been caught and killed by recreational and commercial anglers since 2011.

What You Can Do To Help
Go fishing! The snakehead bites at lures during the breeding season making them a fun sport fish and remember, they’re edible too! Maryland DNR has a great website, Angler’s Log, to report your catches and be entered for prizes. There is also a sporting tournament each summer, visit http://potomacsnakehead.com/ for details.


This regional map shows the reported sightings of Northern Snakeheads as reported by anglers on Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ interactive Angler’s Log website.

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