Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Snakefish of the James River

Sounds like the title of a book.

I was in Richmond for my birthday last weekend, visiting my best friend Amber (who incidentally, owns and runs Artemis Designs in Richmond, a landscape architecture and design firm). As my best friend of 20 years, she STILL LISTENS TO ME!

We took a long hike one day and crept along the border of the James River. I had to get a little bit closer (of course), which lead to a conversation about the types of fish in the river (i.e., catfish, small mouth bass, and snakefish).

The Snakefish

Ugly little critter!

The scariest fact about these "fish" is that they can move on land using their pectoral fins. They can live out of water for as many as three days. Jurassic River?

On a more serious note, the Snakefish can potentially be detrimental for the James River as well as the tributaries downstream. A snakefish is a combination of a snake and a fish. These “fish” have been noted to destroy families of other types of fish, causing extinction and other environmental issues. The primary issue is that these fish do not have a natural predator. For example, where a striper might eat an eel, the snakefish is too strong, adept, and camouflages itself so well that it virtually cannot be preyed upon.

If a snakefish is found or caught, it must be gutted or decapitated. In Virginia, it is illegal to own a snakefish. The DEP has information on their site; that is, if you are interested in learning more about these seriously ugly fish. And let me tell you that if these fish have teeth as sharp as a pickerel, I wouldn't want to be dangling my toes in the water near these puppies!

These fish have been documented as far up as Washington, DC. Similar in appearance to the bowfin and eel, these detrimental fish present with the following qualities (which will help you determine the future of your catch):

  • As a family, snakeheads are native to parts of Asia and Africa. The northern snakehead is native to China, and possibly Korea and Russia.

  • Typically found in a wide variety of habitats

  • Northern snakeheads grow to a maximum length of about 33 inches

  • Generally tan in appearance, with dark brown mottling; body somewhat elongated; long dorsal fin; jaws contain numerous canine-like teeth (similar to pike or pickerel)

  • Capable of breathing air using an air bladder that works as a primitive lung (not found in most fish)

  • Able to hibernate in cracks and crevices during cold temperatures and to go dormant in the mud during droughts

  • Voracious top-level predator, eating mostly fish, but also eats other aquatic wildlife and frogs

  • Capable of moving short distances on land using its pectoral fins; can live out of water for as many as three days

  • Favored as a food fish throughout southeast Asia; also believed to have curative powers. Also sold in the aquarium trade.

  • Four species have been found in the U.S., in eight states, probably the result of releases from personal aquariums or to develop local food sources

  • No natural predators in the U.S.

If you ever catch a snakefish, kill it.


Amorina said...

Interesting to know.

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