Would You Like Snakehead with That?
In an attempt to control an invasive species, some people on the East Coast have started eating a fierce and funky fish
They have large mouths with multiple rows of canine-like teeth, big scales on their heads, and cylindrical bodies up to four feet long. They live in water but can breathe air and crawl on land. Are they creatures from a creepy movie? No—they are fish called snakeheads, and they are very real. They are an invasive species, or a non-native species introduced into an environment where they may harm other animals or plants. Snakeheads are multiplying in the waters of the mid-Atlantic and around South Florida. Now fishermen and conservationists are urging people to combat the species—by eating it.
Native to Asia and Africa, snakeheads were first found in the U.S. in a Maryland pond in 2002. Now they live throughout the Potomac River—which flows through Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.—as well as in South Florida waterways. Snakeheads have also been spotted in several other states. Experts aren’t sure how they got there, but they believe people illegally released the fish into the waters.
Snakeheads are also known as “Frankenfish” because of their scary appearance and aggressive nature. These predators eat other fish, crustaceans, frogs, small reptiles, and even birds and mammals. For this reason, some fishermen and scientists worry about how their presence will affect ecosystems. They’re hoping Americans will acquire a taste for the ferocious fish.
A TASTE FOR SNAKEHEADS
More and more restaurants are adding snakehead to their menus, and some people are finding the invasive fish quite delicious. In fact, fish markets have been selling out of it.
John Rorapaugh, who works at a fish wholesaler in Washington, D.C., told radio station NPR, “When you bite into [a snakehead], it almost feels like it falls apart because it’s so tender.”
Despite the fact that some snakeheads are ending up on plates, there are many more out there—and they’re continuing to multiply. But some experts say they may not be as big a problem as people initially feared. “We don’t have enough information to make that call yet,” John Odenkirk, a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, told NPR. For now, scientists just keep monitoring the native fish populations, which have remained healthy so far.