What do you do when an invasive species threatens a sensitive habitat? Since about 2004, Northern Snakeheads (Channa argus), a predatory Asian fish that threatens native fish populations, have been spotted on the Potomac River. They have now become established in many locations in Northern Virginia, including Huntley Meadows Park, the marshland park where I take many of my wildlife photos.
Throughout this summer, many of us have cheered when ospreys and Great Blue Herons have pulled snakeheads out of the waters, but I suspected that the birds couldn’t control the snakehead population on their own. We have not had much rainfall the last couple of months and most of the remaining water is concentrated in a series of scattered pools of muddy water.
This past Friday, I was privileged to watch a dedicated group of employees from Fairfax County enter those pools of water to remove as many snakeheads as possible. How did they do it? I don’t know the details of the equipment, but essentially two guys walked through the water delivering jolts of electricity from the “juice boxes” on their backs and other members of the group captured the stunned fish with handheld nets and deposited them into five-gallon buckets.
It may sound easy, but in practice it looked really challenging. The pools were slippery and of uncertain depth, so everyone had to move cautiously and slowly, undoubtedly conscious all of the time of the electricity. I don’t know about you, but I am just not really comfortable even thinking about mixing water and electricity.
In total, the group managed to capture about two dozen snakeheads, including several that looked to be about two feet long (61 cm). Unfortunately, the snakeheads are here to stay and I expect that efforts will have to be made every year to reduce and control the population of these fierce predators.
I was granted permission to take photos of the fishing process with the stipulation that I not interfere with the work. It was quite a challenge to try to capture action shots and avoid getting stuck in the mud. I am including an assortment of images to give you a feel of the action and the people involved in the effort,
My good friend and fellow photographer Walter Sanford also captured the action and did a blog posting today called Electrofishing for Northern Snakeheads. Walter included lots of wonderful details about snakeheads in our local area and links to related articles to accompany his images. He and I have different backgrounds and use different camera gear and periodically we like to do companion postings to provide viewers with different perspectives on the same subjects. Be sure to check out his posting.
Initially the group was all together, but it eventually split up into subgroups.
A drop in the bucket after netting a fish.
When the catch was bigger, it was safer to bring it to shore.
Can you figure out why it’s called a “snakehead?”
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.
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