Northern snakeheads (Channa argus) are an invasive species and are considered such a threat that anyone who spots one should kill northern snakeheads. The United States Geological Survery (USGS) recommends tossing them in the freezer or leaving them on ice.
The extreme measures are being urged as the fish appear to be expanding their range within the United States. That can have dire consequences. They have recently been seen in new areas of the country.
According to Brittanica:
“Snakeheads, long-bodied and more or less cylindrical in cross section, have large mouths and long, single dorsal and anal fins; they range from about 10 to 90 cm (4 to 36 inches) long. Snakeheads are able to breathe atmospheric air with the aid of a pair of vascular cavities located near the gills. Carnivorous in habit, they can survive for extended periods out of water. In some areas, they are used as food.” Link in original.
They are voracious predators and authorities fear they will disrupt the natural balance of the states they invade. The fact that they can live out of water for a considerable time is also a concern, USGS asks those who catch and find them to do the following:
- Do not release the fish or throw it up on the bank (it could wriggle back into the water). Remember, this fish is an air breather and can live a long time out of water.
- Kill the fish by freezing it or putting it on ice for an extended length of time.
- Photograph the fish if you have access to a camera so the species of snakehead fish can be positively identified.
- Contact your nearest fish and game agency or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (703-358-2148) as soon as possible. Keeping data on the size, number, and location of where snakeheads are caught or seen is vital to controlling this invasive fish.
Northern snakeheads have cropped up in 15 states, which is worrying authorities. In addition three other snakeheads may be present in the United States. Channa micropeltes, the giant snakehead, Channa marulius the bullseye snakehead, and Channa maculate, the blotched snakehead, have all been spotted in American waters. They do not appear at the moment to be as big a threat.
Unlike Burmese pythons in Florida these fish face a variety of enemies. The hatchlings are food for a wide variety of predatory birds and other fish. In the medium size they are eaten by larger birds and larger fish. As adults, they fear alligators and humans. In return they attack and eat what they find in the water and will eat on land too. Landlubber snakeheads eat anything from insects to birds.
As usual humans, have played a double-edged role in this ecological problem. Snakeheads were kept in aquariums and then released. But they are also a food source. The meat is firm, flaky and white. It can be pan fried, baked or grilled. Apparently, some anglers are less concerned about the fish than authorities. They are called “super bass” by some and recipes are easily found on the internet. Tips for catching them abound too. Nola.com, a New Orleans news outlet has a handy guide. Their guide on how to kill northern snakeheads and eat them can be found here.