Fisheries scientist watching the "vicious" northern snakehead
By Sharon Hill
Published December 20, 2007
WINDSOR, Ont. - The ever-hungry northern snakehead, which has been dubbed Frankenfish and Fishzilla, is one of the two most feared invasive fish that could get into the Great Lakes, a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada said Wednesday.
"These things are just vicious," said Becky Cudmore, manager of the Centre of Expertise for Aquatic Risk Assessment in Burlington, Ont.
The snakehead has become a popular YouTube subject, with a National Geographic YouTube video added within the last month.
One look at that video shows why it would make a mess of the Great Lakes.
One man on the video warns they can bite your entire hand off. A U.S. official warns they can decimate the aquatic food chain.
And they could settle comfortably into Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, which Cudmore says would be ideal habitats for the northern snakehead.
The fish can reach 1.8 metres, can survive out of water for four days and has a mouth full of teeth that can sheer fish in half, the biologist said. The snakehead can even eat ducks and small mammals.
"It gets such huge sizes. It moves over land and it breathes air and it will eat anything it comes into contact with. That's what freaks people out about it, to see a fish moving across land gulping air."
There are many species of snakeheads but the northern snakehead was found in 2002 in a Maryland pond. Those were later killed, but the snakeheads are also found in the Potomac River in Maryland and Virginia.
There are established populations in Florida, Hawaii and Maryland. The northern snakehead lives in Russia and could survive in the Great Lakes, Cudmore said.
She lists it behind the Asian carp as the top unwanted invasive fish, only because the aggressive Asian carp is a greater threat since there are more of them in the States.
If snakehead populations in the United States increase and spread, the fish could reach the Great Lakes, likely starting with Lake Ontario.
It could also be accidentally introduced, since the fish are eaten as food and used to be imported live.
Some snakeheads are kept in aquariums as pets, but that's not as common with the northern snakehead because it is less colorful and grows so large.
Cudmore said it is illegal in Ontario and the United States to possess a live snakehead.
Cudmore evaluated how well the Great Lakes would match the native Russian habitat of the northern snakehead and concluded that Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair would both rate 91, with 100 being a perfect match.
The hardy northern snakeheads like shallow water with plants near the shore. "Those two lakes would provide the most ideal habitat to this species."