The Snakehead Threat
In the summer of 2002, specimens of northern snakehead, a predatory fish native to China, turned up in a pond near Crofton, Maryland. Wildlife officials investigated and found a number of young snakeheads in the pond. Concerned that the aggressive fish would migrate to other waterways and interfere with native populations, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources issued a public alert. The story generated national news coverage and led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose a federal ban on imports of this fish. It has focused public attention on the danger of putting exotic species into environments where they don't belong.
Snakeheads (Family Channidae) are native to Africa and southern Asia. About 28 species have been identified. Equipped with accessory breathing organs, these fish can gulp air and survive in waters with low dissolved oxygen levels. They can also live out of water for several days if they are kept moist. All snakeheads are aggressive predators and may eliminate other fishes in waters they invade. They have even been known to bite humans who got too close to a guarded nest. The northern snakehead (Channa argus) is fairly cold tolerant, and could probably survive winters in many parts of the United States. This species also has the ability to cross land by wriggling or "walking" on its pectoral fins. Snakeheads have been imported to North America for the aquarium trade, and may be sold live in Asian-style fish markets.
Snakeheads in Texas
The northern snakehead is sometimes confused with the bowfin (Amia calva), a nongame fish that is native to Texas. Here's how to tell them apart.
No snakeheads have been found in Texas waters to date, but the threat exists. Because of the damage that can occur when they are inadvertently released into lakes and streams, all species of snakeheads are prohibited in Texas. It is illegal in this state to release into public waters, import, sell, purchase, transport, propagate, or possess any living snakehead, except under special permits issued by TPWD. Dead snakeheads (intestines removed) may be legally imported and sold.