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Going Fishing? Aim for Snakeheads

Maryland Department of Natural Resources offers anglers an incentive to reduce the population of the invasive fish species.

In an effort to minimize the number of northern snakehead fish in Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources is offering anglers an opportunity to win prizes for each snakehead they catch and kill.

To qualify for the chance at the prizes, including a $200 rod-and-tackle package, a Maryland State Park passport and a 2012 Potomac River fishing license, photograph the dead fish and include the location of the catch at the Angler's Log.

History of the Northern Snakehead

In May 2002, an angler at Crofton Pond (MacQuilliam pond) caught an 18-inch fish that he was unable to identify. He took a picture and then released it back into the pond. The next month, another angler caught a 26-inch fish, which by then was identified as the northern snakehead fish.

The fish, a voracious, top-level predator, worried local officials. The snakehead, nicknamed "Frankenfish," has no natural enemies. It eats fish, crustaceans, insects and plants. It can breathe air and survive outside of water for days if kept moist. 

Why the DNR Wants their Population Reduced

Scientists were concerned that the fish—introduced accidentally by someone discarding what was bought at a live fish market in New York City—could get into the Little Patuxent River and do great harm, gobbling up native and endangered species.

Things remained quite calm for a few years. The Crofton pond was electroshocked and drained and the snakehead population in the Little Patuxent River was closely monitored for several years. None were found.

In 2004, the fish was found at Little Hunting Creek, a tidal tributary of the Potomac River in Virginia. 

More and more snakeheads were found in the Potomac, and then in 2008, the fish was caught inside Pomonkey Creek, Piscataway Creek and Chicamuxen Creek in Maryland.

Federal and state fisheries law requires that the fish be killed, bagged and placed into the trash (not back into the water).

“We do not want snakeheads in our waters,” said DNR Inland Fisheries Director Don Cosden. “This initiative is a way to remind anglers that it is important to catch and kill this destructive species of fish.”

The DNR does not expect that anglers can remove or completely eradicate snakeheads from Maryland waters. However, hook-and-line catches might help to slow or reduce snakehead abundance. 

In addition, information about snakehead locations can help scientists assess their bounty and the snakehead's impact on other species.

It is illegal to possess a live snakehead fish in the state of Maryland and federal law prohibits the transport of live snakeheads across state lines.

Many anglers who have caught snakeheads find that the fish are most attracted to the same lures as bass.

In addition, the DNR notes that any fishermen who find a snakehead with a tag should call 800-448-8322 and report the tag number to receive a special edition hat and a certificate from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The contest is ongoing until Dec. 31, 2011.

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