Mt. Vernon, Virginia
By Gary Cameron
Spending time on the water pursuing fish is one of my favorite, relaxing pastimes. Spending time on the water pursuing fish as part of my job comes in as a close second.
In a city that requires plenty of time having photographers covering men in suits behind microphones with lots of blah-blah-blah, going out on a Virginia Department of Game and Inland fisheries biologists “stunboat” for a day of chasing, capturing, monitoring, studying, dissecting and releasing the once-feared northern snakehead fish was an assignment I looked forward to.
The northern snakehead (Channa argus, for those of you who stayed awake in Latin class), became an instant, and feared, celebrity in the Washington, D.C. area back in the summer of 2002. It was reported that someone had discovered a snakehead in a pond in suburban Maryland and this intruder would search, spread, and destroy other species found in local waters, specifically, the Potomac River. Adding to the “fear factor” of the snakeheads very aggressive disposition, an extremely slimy coating, and a mouthful of sharp teeth, was the fact that snakeheads are obligate air breathers. Not only are they comfortable under water, they, like turtles, can spend time breathing air OUT of water as well. Locals were told to kill any snakeheads to stop the spreading of the species, and while you’re at it, hide the women and children as well. This was one bad-ass fish.
Well, like most subjects, there is a lot of yes, and no, when looking deeper into all things snakehead.
John Odenkirk, the Virginia Fisheries biologist who I accompanied on the stunboat, says that snakeheads were in these waters approximately four years before the infamous 2002 Maryland pond sighting. Odenkirk, and assistant biologist Mike Isel, spend a lot of time out on the Potomac from March to October in pursuit of snakeheads for some serious studies. They also monitor largemouth bass and other species as well.