Predatory snakehead fish appears in Central Virginia waterway

By: Sherry Williams Kidd | Email: Click Here
Posted: May 21, 2018 | 1:55 p.m.

DINWIDDIE – A single Northern Snakehead fish was just recently found in the James River drainage for the first time, according to biologists of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

These Northern Snakehead predatory fish have previously been found in other Virginia bodies of water, but this April’s discovery in Colonial Heights’ Lakeview Reservoir was the first time this predatory fish has been found in the James River or its drainage.

Discovery of this potentially-destructive fish in the drainage of the James River and/or the Appomattox River is troubling to central and eastern Virginia. The James River flows into the Appomattox River in Hopewell, and into countless drainage waterways. The James or Appomattox River flows through numerous cities, counties, and communities, to include Prince George, Dinwiddie, Chesterfield, Surry, Petersburg, Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Matoaca, Ettrick, to mention just a few. 

The Appomattox River flows over 157 miles through the Commonwealth.

“Exotic species such as Northern Snakeheads can adversely affect natural aquatic systems, and may have significant impacts by feeding on and competing with native and/or naturalized fishes,” said Dr. Mike Bednarski, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “In addition, they may transmit parasites and diseases to native wildlife in those systems.”

These Northern Snakeheads were caught in Howard County, Maryland in 2016 and officials are on alert after one of the invasive snakeheads were found in a Colonial Heights waterway. (Ben Leonard/Maryland Biodiversity Project)

“Thankfully, none of the anglers reporting their fish catches here have ever caught one of those snakeheads,” said Barbara Williams, Co-Owner and Operator of Whippernock Marina, Lake Chesdin, Sutherland, Northern Dinwiddie. “We see a lot of people coming in-and-out of the Marina, and we have never even heard of anyone seeing one of these fish, and hopefully we never will. We have heard how devastating they can be to other fish populations.”

The DGIF asks anyone who captures a Northern Snakehead fish to take a photograph of the fish, and to contact DGIF immediately. “Anglers are allowed to keep Northern Snakeheads, however, the fish must be dead in your possession (contained in a live-well, cooler, etc.), and the finding must be reported to DGIF immediately,” according to a DGIF Spokesperson. “The Department asks that all captured snakehead fish be killed immediately following their capture.”

“I work at the Anchor Point Marina, which is on the Appomattox River, and none of the anglers coming through the marina have ever reported seeing or catching a snakehead fish,” said Laura Hacker, Anchor Point Marina, Hopewell. The name of the James River changes to the Appomattox River, where it rounds the bend in Hopewell. They are one-and-the-same.

Northern snakehead fish are native to Asia and Africa. The fish were first discovered in the Potomac River in 2004. They have also been discovered in Lake Anna, the Rappahannock River, and in Lake Burke. “Contrary to popular depictions in the media, Northern Snakeheads are not capable of moving across the land.”

“Most new occurrences are caused by people intentionally introducing, or stocking them into new bodies of water,” said the DGIF Spokesperson. “Citizens are reminded that this activity is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine of $2,500, or both.”

Anyone catching or discovering a northern snakehead fish, should retain, and contain it, by putting the fish into a sealed container of some sort, and then report this finding immediately to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. They can be contacted by telephone at (804) 367-2925. 

Under no circumstances should you re-release the snakehead predators back into our Virginia waterways!

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