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WANTED: Dead or frozen
The northern snakehead

 Image by Susan Trammel.

Northern snakeheads in Delaware

Northern snakeheads (Channa argus), an invasive fish, have recently been confirmed in Delaware waters. In this region, northern
snakeheads have been previously confirmed in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Three adult snakeheads were collected from the Delaware portion of the Nanticoke watershed: Broad Creek in Laurel, Nanticoke Branch upstream of Seaford, and the Marshyhope at Woodenhawk.  All were adult fish.  Following an incident at Becks Pond in August, during which a teenage kayaker was bitten while attempting to scoop what were thought to be a school of minnows, DNREC biologists electrofishing the pond captured an adult, two schools of fry and sighted two additional adults.  Media attention and the press release from the Becks incident resulted in a confirmed report of an additional adult snakehead catch in Nonesuch Creek in early August. 

These fish are identified by long dorsal (back) and anal fins; a rounded tail, and a large mouth reaching beyond the eye with large teeth. Adults are brownish in color with darker, irregular shaped blotches along the sides.  The young are generally lighter tan or yellowish in color. 

The Fisheries Section asks that any possible snakehead catches in any Delaware waters be reported by emailing a photograph and details to edna.stetzar@state.de.us or by calling 302-735-8654 or 302-735-8652. Snakeheads should not be released back into the water but should be killed or frozen for confirmation.

Delaware’s regulations prohibit the transport, purchase, sale or possession of live northern snakehead. Therefore, any snakeheads taken must be immediately killed. There are no season or size limits for northern snakehead. It is permissible to take northern snakeheads from state waters by bowfishing, spear or hook and line. NOTE: Fish may not be taken with bow & arrow on properties managed by the Division of Parks and Recreation or where prohibited by local ordinance (e.g., Becks Pond managed by New Castle County).

Spawning for snakeheads takes place between June and September with parents guarding the young in the nest. Adults are very aggressive during this period.  The young initially feed on zooplankton and small crustaceans but will eat other fish fry by the time they are one inch long.  Sexual maturity is reached at 2 to 3 years (about 12 to 14 inches in length). The snakehead prefers shallow, stagnant ponds, slow muddy streams, and areas with heavy vegetation. They are tolerant of wide temperatures (0 to 31 °C) and low oxygen levels.  They can tolerate low to moderate salinity, typical of the Delaware Bay above Port Mahon, but will not survive in saltwater such as the inland bays. They can also use their swim bladder as a sort of ‘lung’ during periods of low oxygen.              

Additional northern snakehead links:

 

Northern snakehead removed from Broad Creek in Laurel.

 

 

Juvenile (fry) northern snakehead removed in August from Becks Pond.

 

 

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