CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The recent confirmation of a snakehead fish caught in the Monongahela River is a disturbing discovery for West Virginia anglers. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boating Commission confirms the adult snakehead was caught by an angler in Pennsylvania waters near Braddock, Pa.
It stands to reason if there was a fish there, there could easily be one of the invasive critters upstream in West Virginia. So far that hasn’t been determined, but it is definitely a concern.
“The best case scenario is that was the only one out there, but you never know,” said Mark Scott, Assistant Chief of Fisheries for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
It’s the first time the top chain predator has been found in the Ohio River drainage. Previously they were known to be in the Potomac River drainage, which again has headwaters in West Virginia, but so far there have been no confirmed reports of the fish in West Virginia waters.
“I think one of our guys found a dead one several years ago over in the eastern panhandle somewhere. It looked like somebody had harvested it with a bow and just thrown it on the bank near a launch ramp,” Scott said during a conversation about the discovery on West Virginia Outdoors.
The fish is native to the Far East and is known to inhabit Northern China, Korea, and Russia. How it got to America is a subject of lore.
“The story goes a Chinese guy had a sick sister and bought a couple of snakeheads to make soup for her, but she got better. So in honor of her, he released them alive into a local pond,” said Scott. “From there, they spread and proliferated and now they’re all through the Potomac drainage.”
Scott noted since the discovery of the snakehead in the Potomac, their impact hasn’t been overwhelming. But he said anytime an invasive species is released, it always comes with a cost.
“It’s going to replace something since it’s a better competitor and it will replace something in the ecosystem,” he said. “Time will tell. It hasn’t caused a huge, huge issue in the Potomac, but you just never know.”
The snakehead bears a striking resemblance to the native bowfin in West Virginia waters, but it has a much larger and more bony head. They are also voracious eaters and will quickly devour a lot of the potential forage for other game fish like walleye, smallmouth, and other species native to our rivers and streams.
Scott’s best hope is they won’t find our West Virginia waters hospitable and will move on to somewhere else. He admits that would likely be out of the main river channels and into backwaters where the current is less pronounced. Their impact on those back waters may also have an impact if their numbers became plentiful.
It’s against the law to posses one of the fish in West Virginia. Anyone who happens to catch one is advised to immediately kill it and call the Division of Natural Resources. If called immediately and the fish is turned over to the agency, there would be no citation.
“Yeah, if you catch one kill the thing and give us a call, we’d like to have it,” said Scott.