THREAT! Northern Snakehead Fish – Invasive Species

September 24, 2010

After reading about several species of plants and animals which live in the Hudson River, I became interested in some of the invasive Species which have been introduced from foreign countries, having harmful effects on the local environment. The northern snakehead is an invasive fish native to China, Russia and Korea. They were illegally imported into the US for 2 reasons:  1) to be used as local food source 2) to be used as freshwater aquarium fish, as soon as they go too large owners eventually released them. Combining the northern snakehead’s adaptability, carnivorous appetite, ability to move over land, capability to breed quickly and have a lack of natural enemies, you end up with a real threat to indigenous species that live in these water ways.

The snakehead fish is very different compared to other fish. They look similar to eels when looking at their body, and they can grow to around 4 feet.  They have the ability to breathe air, and travel short distances on land to nearby sources of water. It got its name because of its stereotypically flat, snake-like head and toothed mouth. They feed voraciously, primarily on other fish but also eat frogs, crayfish and aquatic insects. They are able to inhabit any lakes and streams and are able to live in a wide range of oxygen levels.

Two populations of Snakehead fish have been found in New York State: one in two connected ponds in Queens and one in Ridgebury Lake. Even though the Queens population is confined, the Ridgebury population, situated in the Wallkill River drainage, could easily infest the entire Hudson River drainage.

 In 2002, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service added snakeheads to the list of “injurious fish.” This means that snakeheads are prohibited from being imported into the US. Several states prohibit the possession of live snakeheads, but there is still a large amount of illegal activities reported. They can also be bought over the internet.

For the time being the DEC has been able to stop the spread of the Northern Snakehead in  Ridgbury Lake by the use of the pesticide rotenone. The native fish were removed prior to adding the pesticide and released back into the lake, as soon as water levels were no longer harmful.

Even though the threat has been momentarily contained, this does not mean that it is over, locals need to keep in mind that if one of these fish is caught, it needs to be documented and destroyed. The Hudson River is under serious threat of this vicious Species entering its waterways. Where there is one there are likely to be many more…



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