Snakehead Fishing

Fish of the family Channidae are commonly referred to as snakeheads and consist of two genera (Channa and Parachanna) and approximately 21 species. Eighteen species from the genera Channa are native to Asia while three species from the genera Parachanna are found in tropical Africa. Snakeheads are freshwater fish, but a few may tolerate low salinity waters. Snakeheads can resemble native bowfin, have well toothed jaws and palates, and breathe atmospheric air through the use of a simple labyrinth organ. The ability to breathe air allows snakeheads to survive in habitats with low dissolved oxygen. They can also survive out of the water for several days if their skin remains moist. Unfortunately, northern snakeheads have become firmly established in over 60 river miles of the Potomac River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, together with its partners, continues to conduct research to assess impacts on the ecosystem and effects of the snakehead introduction on fish populations. Research conducted in the Potomac River includes electrofishing surveys to determine distribution and feeding habits, telemetry tagging to assess daily and seasonal behavior, and angler surveys to determine effects of the growing snakehead population on recreational fishing. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, D.C. Fisheries and Wildlife, and The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have placed reward tags on snakeheads to estimate the size of the population in the Potomac River and learn more about how they are moving in the river and its tributaries. Learning about the biology and behavior of this fish will help biologists determine more efficient methods of removal and control.