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More predatory Snakehead fish found in Chesterfield, Colonial Heights

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VADGIF) discovered more predatory northern Snakehead fish over the weekend. Though the Snakehead fish had previously been discovered in other Virginia bodies of water, the April discovery of them in Colonial Height's Lakeview Reservoir was the first occurrence of this species within the James River drainage.

On Saturday in Chesterfield County, an angler reeled in a Snakehead fish from the Swift Creek Reservoir near Woodlake.  And three more snakehead fish were caught at the Lakeview Reservoir; they were estimated to be about a year old. The one caught at Swift Creek was a female, carrying many eggs.

Both sites will now be monitored by the DGIF, the agency concerned about the invasive fish being discovered in two different locations here in Central Virginia.

Retiree Russell Pearce has enjoyed years of fishing at the Lakeview Reservoir after he retired, because fishing "was pretty good --  catfish especially, perch and brim, bass".

Pearce said he isn't only fisherman who noticed something has changed.

"I definitely think some things happened," Pearce said. "The catches are down and it didn't use to be like that and I've noticed this change over the last six to eight months."

Word of the discovery on Lakeview Reservoir is not good news for avid fisherman Roger Hedrick.

"Extremely concerning because Snakeheads are an invasive species that dominate the food chain in the water," Hedrick said.

"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 fish is not native to the area.

"It's pretty well definitive that somebody placed them there," said Gary Martel,  Deputy Director of DGIF.

Martel said his organization is concerned about species interaction and what happens inside natural environments.

For now it's unknown how much the Snakehead has impacted the Lakeview ecosystem and how many more there are under the water. The state said they will now monitor the reservoir to see if there is any impact.

The first ever International Snakehead Symposium will be held from July 19 to July 20, in Alexandria, in response to the growing issue.

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.