Anglers Reminded to be on Lookout for Snakehead Fish

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BowfinRALEIGH, N.C. – The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is reminding anglers fishing the Catawba River this year to be on the lookout for snakehead – an exotic, predatory fish that has the potential to expand its range into North Carolina waters.

Northern snakeheadIf anglers suspect they have caught a snakehead in the Catawba River or other state waters, they are asked to keep it, freeze it or place it on ice, and report the capture to the Commission by calling (919) 707-0220.

While no new reports of snakehead catches have surfaced since the reported catch and release of a northern snakehead last May, fisheries biologists want to make certain that anglers are aware of what they should do if they think that they have caught a snakehead.

Snakehead, which are native to Asia and Africa, have the potential to cause undesirable impacts on native fishes in waters where they have been illegally introduced by competing with them for food and habitat, preying upon them and transmitting disease. An established snakehead population could reduce the abundance of popular game and nongame species, affecting angler catch rates.

An angler reportedly caught a fish from the upper Catawba River arm of Lake Wylie last May and thought the fish was a bowfin. He took photographs of the fish before releasing it back into the river near Belmont; however, a few days later, biologists with the Commission and the United States Geological Survey identified the fish in the photographs as a northern snakehead.

While confusing a bowfin and a snakehead is easy to do, distinguishing between the two species can be straightforward.

“The best way to distinguish between a bowfin and a snakehead is to look at the anal fin, which is the bottom-rear fin near the tail,” said Jacob Rash, fisheries biologist with the Commission.

“The snakehead has a very long anal fin, which is more than half the length of the dorsal (back) fin, and the bowfin has a shorter anal fin, which is less than half the length of the dorsal fin.”

Because of the potential negative impacts of snakehead on existing fisheries, plus a similar reported sighting in Lake Wylie in 2002, the Wildlife Commission passed a regulation in 2004 making it illegal to transport, purchase, possess or sell live snakeheads in North Carolina.

Click here for a list of frequently asked questions on northern snakehead and a flyer that pictures the differences between a bowfin and a northern snakehead.

Additional information on snakeheads can be found at the United States Geological Survey’s Web site,