SEPTEMBER 27, 2018

Snakeheads Found in Susquehanna Tributary

Octoraro fish quickly drew anglers but raise concerns for eels and Chesapeake logperch

  • By Donna Morelli, Bay Journal News

Pennsylvania angler Mark Mabry knew he had something big on his line while fishing the Lancaster County section of Octoraro Creek this summer.

He didn’t expect to reel in a 25-inch northern snakehead — a notorious invasive species with a big appetite and the ability to shuffle short distances on land.

“I was a little shocked,” he said. “They’re fun to catch, but it’s not what I want to see.”

Mabry’s catch was the first snakehead confirmed in the Pennsylvania portion of the Octoraro Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River. According to Michael Kauffmann, the Southeastern Area Fisheries Manager for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, it was soon followed by others.

“One of the first anglers that contacted me said, ‘I caught one, but a friend of mine caught two the other day,’ ” Kaufmann said. “And then we got a message that there were five of them lying on the bank. We kept getting calls or emails indicating they caught single fish but friends caught multiple fish. This went on for about three weeks before it started dying down.”

Snakeheads, a fish native to Asia, caused a great deal of concern in the Chesapeake Bay region in 2002, when they first appeared in a suburban Maryland pond. Scientists and anglers worried about the potentially widespread impact of their voracious appetite on the ecosystem as they competed with native fish for food.

Fifteen years later, with snakeheads living in many of the Bay’s creeks and rivers, such fears have generally been put to rest, at least for now. But there is concern about the localized effect the Octoraro snakeheads might have on American eels and Chesapeake logperch.

Snakeheads are toothy, slimy and huge, weighing up to 20 pounds. They can also breathe out of water as long as they stay wet, and use their fins to travel short distances on land. They mostly eat fish, frogs, small minnows, crawfish and eels, but have also been known to bring down ducks and small mammals.

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