Wild Chesapeake: New Campaign to Stop the Snakeheads

Snakehead fishing has grown in popularity among sport anglers. Zack Goss hauled in this 7-pounder fishing an Eastern Shore tidal creek. Photo courtesy of Zack Goss

Snakehead fishing has grown in popularity among sport anglers. Zack Goss hauled in this 7-pounder fishing an Eastern Shore tidal creek. Photo courtesy of Zack Goss

As snakehead fishing popularity explodes among sport anglers, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hope anglers will help slow the spread of this invasive fish, now foundin many tidal tributaries and freshwater ponds in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The agency has released and is working on additional informational videos, fact sheets and an updated webpage to encourage anglers to keep and kill the fish. DNR is concerned that, left unchecked, snakehead population growth could impact native species such as white and yellow perch.

Maryland biologists first confirmed the presence of snakeheads in state waters in 2002, when the fish were discovered in a pond near the Potomac River. Since then, the species has to spread or been illegally transported to tidal tributaries around the upper and middle Bay and Potomac River. There are reports of the fish living in isolated farm ponds and fresh waters streams. In the past two years, for example, snakehead populations have grown significantly in Eastern Shore tributaries including the creeks and rivers that make up the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge system in Dorchester County. This, in turn, has inspired anglers to target them.

Anglers enjoy catching snakeheads because they’re voracious fighters on light tackle, and they are delicious, with white meat that is similar to rockfish or halibut. And you can keep as many as you want. In fact, DNR encourages it. But it is illegal to transport them alive and especially egregious to transplant them into other bodies of water.

There was a time when anglers thought they were required to kill every snakehead they caught. However, DNR has clarified the rules to say, “Any person wishing to release a live snakehead may do so provided it is immediate and directly back into the waters from which it came. For those willing, we actively encourage the targeting and harvest of every snakehead caught.”

Andy Fox currently holds the Maryland state record with a 19.9-pounder caught in Charles County in May, 2018. He killed it with a bow and arrow, which is legal for this species and qualifies it for state record recognition.

 

Virginia Saltwater Tournament Spadefish Citation Threshold Lowered

In a move that has been under consideration for a few years, the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament Committee lowered the minimum spadefish citation weight to eight pounds. The minimum length for a Spadefish Releases Citation remains the same at 22 inches.

Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament lowered the Citation minimum weight for spadefish to 8 pounds. Currently, Roland E. Murphy [left] of Fredericksburg holds the Virginia state record spadefish at 14-pounds, 14-ounces. Photo courtesy Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament

Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament lowered the Citation minimum weight for spadefish to 8 pounds. Currently, Roland E. Murphy [left] of Fredericksburg holds the Virginia state record spadefish at 14-pounds, 14-ounces. Photo courtesy Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament

Committee member Dr. Ken Neill explained, “The committee felt that today, an 8-pound fish is large enough to be trophy sized.” 

The current Virginia state record is a 14-pound, 14-ounce fish caught by Roland E. Murphy of Fredericksburg on June 13, 2009.

The Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament is a year-round, state-run angler recognition program, which was started in 1958. Anglers who catch and register qualifying fish from the list of 28 species from the smallest (spot) to the largest (blue marlin) receive wall plaques. There is no entry fee other than the appropriate fishing license.

-Capt. Chris Dollar

Bay Bulletin