Possible snakehead sighting spine-chilling

Snakehead sighting offers reminder of the dangers of releasing invasive specie into the wild.

The report in the local media last week of a sighting of a snakehead fish in the lagoon in Burnaby’s Central Park is cause for some spine-chilling thoughts. Currently, the B.C. Ministry of Environment biologists are investigating but the mere idea of someone releasing such a menacing fish into the water is horrifying.

With over 30 species, snakeheads are a predatory fish indigenous to southeast Asia and parts of Africa.  They are tan and blotchy brown and can grow over a metre long. Their mouths, cluttered with sharp teeth not unlike pike or walleye, reach well behind the eyes earning them their reputation as top-level predators with a skill to kill. They will lurk in shallow waters feeding on fish, crustaceans, plants, and insects. With a primitive lung system, they can breathe air and have the ability to navigate on land for several days, wiggling snake-like to a new water source if their original one dries out. One species can survive in cold water making Canada’s freshwater systems ideal habitat. It could cause havoc for aquatic ecosystems and recreational fishing.

Northern snakehead, native to China, Russia and Korea, were imported to the U.S. for aquarists and for sale as a food or medicinal fish to the Asian community. But irresponsible owners released unwanted fish into local ponds. Infestations have occurred in New York State, Maryland, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, California and Hawaii. In Maryland, officials tried to eradicate them by poisoning infested ponds but they have since surfaced in the Potomac River making their control vastly more complicated. When a snakehead showed up on a fishing line in Ontario in 2010, the province promptly banned the sale of all live snakeheads. Now the Lower Mainland is facing the dilemma.

“A couple of people have seen it,” said Matthias Herborg, aquatic invasive species specialist with the B.C. Ministry of Environment. “But they’re unconfirmed reports.”

This week, officials from the City of Burnaby and the ministries of environment and forestry will use nets and look at the lagoon and nearby ponds to see what they can find, then decide on a course of action.

“The most common means of snakehead introduction is through their availability in some food markets and pet stores,” said Dr. Michael Russello, associate professor with the Department of Biology, UBC, Okanagan campus. “It is still legal in B.C. to sell live snakehead fish. The likelihood of more than one individual being introduced is dependent upon the mode of introduction, so it is really hard to say. Even the introduction of one gravid female could be devastating, as they can produce up to 150,000 eggs.”

Pond management if a snakehead is suspected will be essential and really challenging especially if a self-sustaining breeding population is discovered which, Russello said, would make options for eradication quite limited. And successful eradication would depend on the number of individual fish that have been introduced.

“The number one precaution that the public can make is not to release any non-native species into the environment,” stressed Russello. “Invasive species are the second greatest threat to biodiversity (habitat destruction is the first). The best strategy to prevent such impacts is to avoid intentional or unintentional introduction in the first place. (Given that) selling live snakeheads is now prohibited by law in Ontario, I would think it prudent for B.C. to follow suit given the latest scare.”

“We have to look at specifics,” said Herborg. “Once we know if the fish is there we will do some other techniques.”

Like Russello, Herborg stressed the importance that the public not release aquarium fish into local waters. “It’s a huge risk and very hard to know what the consequences are.”

Just Posted

Crews work on the construction of Stitó:s Lá:lém Totí:lt near the Vedder River on Thursday, April 1, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack School District shuffling catchment areas as Stitó:s Lá:lém totí:lt construction continues

SD33 is looking for public input about proposed catchment and feeder school options

A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of CFB Comox on a training exercise in Chilliwack on June 16, 2021. (William Snow photo)
VIDEO: Military search and rescue training in Chilliwack Wednesday

CH-149 Cormorant and CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox participated in downed aircraft rescue simulation

Stock photo by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
Drop-in vaccination clinics slated in Abbotsford for construction workers

Among three sites in Lower Mainland holding no-appointment clinics in June and July

Chilliwack Spartans Swim Club coach Justin Daly.
Chilliwack Spartans swim coach Justin Daly wins Rubber Boot Award

Daly was recognized in a vote by fellow coaches in the BC Swim Coaches Association

Linnea Labbee outside the Chilliwack Law Courts on April 1, 2021 on day 16 of her trial in BC Supreme Court. Labbee was convicted April 12 for the fatal hit-and-run of 78-year-old Fourghozaman Firoozian on Dec. 1, 2016. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Sentencing hearing scheduled for 72-year-old Chilliwack woman found guilty in fatal hit-and-run

Crown will seek jail time for Linnea Labbee who struck and killed 78-year-old woman in 2016

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Attorney General David Eby attend opening of the first government-run B.C. Cannabis Store, Kamloops, Oct. 19, 2018. (B.C. government)
B.C. government to allow home cannabis delivery starting July 15

Added convenience expected to persuade buyers to ‘go legal’

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

Homicide investigators say the disappearance of a 33-year-old Burnaby man is linked to ongoing gang warfare in the Lower Mainland. (IHIT)
Disappearance of Burnaby man no accident, foul play suspected: IHIT

Parminder Paul Rai, 33, is known to police for his connection to drug and gang activity, says Sgt. Frank Jang

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum speaks at a press conference in August 2019 about provincial government approval of the city’s change to a municipal force, joined by councillors (from left) Mandeep Nagra, Allison Patton and Doug Elford. Members of the National Police Federation claim there is still no transition plan in place although Surrey RCMP’s contract with the city is due to end March 31.(File photo)
Elections BC approves petition application for referendum on Surrey policing transition

Application was filed under Recall and Initiative Act by the widow of a Surrey murder victim

Fiery crash on the Okanagan Connector between two semis. (Facebook)
One dead after fiery Okanagan Connector crash between two semis

DriveBC estimates road won’t be open until 5 p.m.

Most Read