The northern snakehead is an invasive fish native to China, Russia and Korea. Two populations of this air-breathing predator were identified in New York State; one in two connected ponds in Queens (NYC), and one in Ridgebury Lake in the Town of Wawayanda, Orange County. See the photo, below.
While the Queens population is confined, the Ridgebury population, situated in the Wallkill River drainage, has the potential to infest the entire Hudson River drainage and beyond, to the Great Lakes and continental US. DEC is working to eradicate the Ridgebury population using Rotenone, which was applied in August 2008. Rotenone is an extract from several different tropical plants and breaks down rapidly after application, with no lasting toxicity. DEC removed several hundred native fish from Ridgebury Lake prior to the pesticide treatment, to be restocked at a later date.
Snakeheads are highly invasive and have the potential to disrupt recreational and commercial fishing, harm native fish and wildlife, and impact our economy. New York State prohibits possession, sale and live transport of snakehead fish and their viable eggs. The importation and interstate transport of snakeheads is prohibited under the federal Lacey Act.
Northern snakeheads are superb predators, capable of growing to at least three feet long and surviving throughout the continental US in a variety of habitats. With teeth similar to pike and walleye, they feed voraciously, primarily on other fish, but also eat frogs, crayfish and aquatic insects. While they prefer weedy shallow waters, they can inhabit virtually any lakes and streams. They tolerate a wider range of oxygen levels than our native species; when oxygen is insufficient to support most of our native fish, snakeheads can breathe air - and they may survive for days out of water in damp conditions. Young fish can move across the ground to access water. Snakeheads spawn multiple times each year, with females releasing tens of thousands of eggs each time. Eggs hatch in one to two days during the summer, and parents guard the young until they begin to feed. Upon hatching, snakeheads feed on zooplankton, then begin consuming other fish larvae when they are less than an inch long.
What do they look like? • Tan to pale brown with dark brown blotches on sides and saddle-like markings on back. • Elongated body with long dorsal and anal fins. • Many sharp teeth. • Large mouth reaching far behind the eyes. • May be confused with bowfin, which has a short anal fin, small teeth and often a black spot at base of tail.
What should I do if I see or catch a snakehead? • REPORT any caught or observed snakehead to DEC's regional fisheries office. • If you catch one, DO NOT RELEASE IT! Kill it immediately, freeze it and report your catch. Take a digital photo if possible.
Update September 1, 2009: DEC announced that two more adult snakeheads were found at an impassable weir in Catlin Creek, showing that some survived the 2008 eradication effort. DEC plans to apply an aquatic pesticide to portions of Catlin Creek and adjacent wetland areas in October of 2009. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will provide “Marshmaster” vehicles to transit the swampy areas to dispense the rotenone pesticide. DEC plans to restock the area with fish after it is treated, and to stock Ridgebury Lake. A mixture of species, including largemouth bass, black crappie, and minnows, will be stocked.
Information from the DEC website and press releases.