A “Frankenfish” called the northern snakehead has been creeping across the U.S. for the past 20 years, Business Insider reports. In 2023, a Missouri resident reported a sighting deep in the state, the farthest into the Midwest that the fish has ever been found. This slow spread is wreaking havoc on fish and fishers in 17 states.
What is a northern snakehead?
It can grow to be well over a foot long and has brown scales with a spotted pattern somewhat similar to a python or rattlesnake, with similarly sharp teeth.
Why is this fish a problem?
The northern snakehead is an invasive species — a species that is so successful in a new environment, it multiplies out of control and damages the ecosystem and the organisms that are native to it. The northern snakehead’s ability to travel over land to reach new bodies of water, combined with the fact that it can breed five times a year and lay 50,000 eggs each time, makes it easy for the fish to spread, Business Insider explains.
Meanwhile, this carnivorous fish is eating its new neighbors. According to Business Insider, researchers examined the affected ecosystems in 2019 and found that the populations of 17 native species had shrunk by up to 97% because of the northern snakehead.
Many of the affected species are popular with fishers, like white perch and black crappie. It’s gotten harder to catch these fish since the northern snakehead arrived. The invader is also going after the endangered American eel and threatening conservation areas that include some of Missouri’s last lowlands and swamps.
What can you do about the northern snakehead?
The government has asked individuals to kill any northern snakeheads they see immediately and report it to the Division of Fish and Wildlife. Never release the fish back into the water, and do not just leave it alive on land, where it can wriggle back into the water.
If you want to, you can also cook the northern snakehead and make it into fish tacos, fried fillets, or myriad other white fish preparations. It’s edible and considered a delicacy in some parts of Asia, so you’ll get a free meal while doing the environment a favor.
Unfortunately, all the fish tacos in the world likely won’t be enough to rid the U.S. of this fish completely.
“They’re in the Mississippi River already,” Dave Knuth, of the Missouri Department of Conservation, told Business Insider. “It will just be a matter of time before we see them spread north.”
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