Environment

Does this nasty, destructive fish lurk in South Carolina waters?

A voracious fish that can wipe out native species has been marked for death by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

The agency, in a news release late Friday afternoon, urged people to “immediately’’ kill any Northern snakehead fish they encounter on the state’s rivers or lakes. The Asian fish is a top-level predator that could be devastating to fish in South Carolina.

Snakeheads haven’t been discovered here yet, but Georgia wildlife officials recently found a snakehead in a pond near Atlanta. Officials in North Carolina also have found a snakehead in that state, and warned the public this month to be on the look out for more.

Overall, snakeheads have been reported in 14 states, according South Carolina wildlife authorities.

“Our first line of defense in the fight against aquatic invasive species, such as the Northern snakehead, is our anglers,” according to a DNR news release quoting Ross Self, the DNR’s chief of freshwater fisheries. “If South Carolina anglers catch a Northern snakehead, they should kill it immediately and report it to SCDNR.”

Snakeheads resemble bowfins, bottom-dwelling fish native to South Carolina. Snakeheads, which can reach 3 feet long, have long dorsal fins that run along their backs. They are blotchy in appearance, unlike bowfins, which are more uniform in color, the DNR says. They have wide mouths filled with teeth.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says snakeheads likely showed up in the United States years ago. In 2002, before they were banned from being brought into the country, the fish were sold in pet stores and live fish markets, the service says.

Northern snakeheads drew attention in 2004 when fishermen in Maryland caught one in a pond, the service says.

“Fisheries scientists consider snakeheads to be invasive species because they have the potential to threaten native fishes, the recreational fishing industry, and aquatic ecosystems,’’ according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Sammy Fretwell has covered the environment for more than 20 years at The State. He writes about an array of environmental subjects, including nature, climate change, energy, state environmental policy, nuclear waste and coastal development. Fretwell is a University of South Carolina graduate who grew up in Anderson County. Reach him at 803 771 8537.
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