COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- Northern Snakehead fish have been discovered in the James River drainage for the first time in state history, according to Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) biologists. While the predatory fish had previously been discovered in other Virginia bodies of water, the April discovery in Colonial Height's Lakeview Reservoir was the first occurrence of this species within the James River drainage.
"Exotic species like snakeheads can disrupt natural aquatic systems and may have significant impacts by feeding on and competing with native and/or naturalized fishes," Dr. Mike Bednarski, with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said. "In addition, they may transmit parasites and diseases to native wildlife in those systems."
The department urged anyone who captures a Northern Snakehead should take a photo of it and contact DGIF immediately.
"Anglers are allowed to keep Northern Snakeheads, however, they must be dead in possession (contained in live well, cooler, etc.) and reported to DGIF immediately," a department spokesperson said. "The Department asks that all captured snakehead be killed following capture."
Native to Asia and Africa, Northern Snakehead were first discovered in the Potomac River in 2004. They have also turned up in Lake Anna, the Rappahannock River, and Burke Lake.
"Contrary to popular depictions in the media, Northern Snakeheads are not capable of moving across land – most new occurrences are caused by people intentionally introducing (stocking)
them into new bodies of water," the department spokesperson said. "Citizens are reminded that this activity is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine of $2500, or both."
Northern Snakehead can be reported to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries by calling 804-367-2925.