Retailer to Reward Snakehead Killers

State looks to ban ownership of non-native fish while tackle seller begins bounty program

Field & Stream Online Editors

The recent discoveries of snakeheads in waters around the Washington, D.C. area has conservation officials looking to the law for help. But just in case that doesn't work, Bass Pro Shops has offered to place a bounty on the exotic fish.

A top-level predator, the voracious snakehead has no natural enemies outside of its natural, fresh-water habitat in Asia and Africa, and it is known to consume anything. The fish is often sold at Asian markets or kept as a pet, and biologists say the snakehead could have harmful effects on future fish populations. However, the containment of the fish is easier said than done. A snakehead can survive on land up to four days and, with the use of its fins, is able to crawl into different bodies of water. In the U.S., fisheries scientists have found four species of snakeheads in seven states.

Wednesday, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources released a draft regulation that would prohibit residents from possessing 29 types of non-native fish or their eggs, including the northern snakehead, www.nbc4.com reported. The new regulation is aimed at individuals who introduce snakeheads into area waters after they become too large for domestic aquariums or are no longer wanted.

In 2002, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries approved a regulation similar to Maryland's proposal that added snakeheads to the state's list of predatory and undesirable exotic species. "We established this regulation to prevent these animals from harming our native wildlife," VDGIF director William L. Woodfin, Jr said in a statement.

But if breaking the law isn't enough to keep snakeheads from ending up in Maryland's waters, Bass Pro Shops has come up with an incentive to take the fish out. The fishing tackle retailer announced its involvement in the snakehead fight by offering gift certificates for every snakehead taken on a line and hook in Maryland. The gift certificates, which range from $10 to $50 depending on the size of the fish, will be awarded to fishermen after the catch is reported to the DNR and the snakehead is turned into the Bass Pro Shop's store in Hanover.

The reward for catching and killing the fish comes one week after the discovery of a 6-year-old snakehead in the Potomac River. The mature fish has scientists worried that breeding has already begun and that snakeheads are here to stay. Some scientists are even under the impression that the worst is yet to come. "We've had reproduction for some time in the system," John Odenkirk, a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, told the Washington Times. "It's nowhere close to what we'll see pretty soon."