During the past few days news outlets have been reporting on the dangers of the northern snakehead, a supposedly invasive species of fish that may now be living in Harlem Meer. It’s possible that the fish could drastically alter the ecosystem of the park’s most popular fishing hole. However, the fish has failed to be quite as significant of an issue as foretold in other North American waters.
America was first alerted about a dangerous, invasive species of fish, “a companion for the Creature from the Black Lagoon” according to the Baltimore Sun, in 2002 when one was discovered in a pond in Crofton, Maryland. Experts and media outlets speculated that the fish would breed at an alarming rate and decimate fish populations as it has razor sharp teeth and feeds on other fish. The fish also possesses a unique ability to survive out of water for quite some while due to bronchial organs which allow it to breath out of water and its ability to secrete mucus thus protecting itself from dry elements. Fearing that the fish would start hopping out of the water and spreading to other sources eventually destroying entire ecosystems of fish, the state of Maryland dumped a pestiside into the pond which killed everything living in the water.
Meanwhile the snakehead was already colonizing the Potomac River. Dumping pesticides in a pond may be questionable but it certainly wouldn’t be acceptable in a river. So instead, local agencies monitored the situation and suprisingly in the past ten years they’ve not witnessed any behavior which seems to indicate reason for alarm. John Odenkirk, a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, told the Washington Post that the snakeheads are “a lazy fish.” Apparently they barely use their razor sharp teeth. They inhale small fish whole that happen to swim by their mouths. According to the Washington Post, there also doesn’t seem to be an adverse effect on other fish populations.
Odenkirk doesn’t think that snakeheads have made any significant impact on the Potomac’s ecosystem, but it may be a few more years before biologists can say with certainty how snakeheads fit into the river’s not-so-natural waters. But so far, snakeheads aren’t gobbling up every living thing in sight — unless it’s small and swims near their lazy heads.
This information seems to be consistent with the information collected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who has been studying snakeheads that were discovered in two connected lakes in Queens back in 2005.
Despite being in suitable habitat, the Queens northern snakehead population has not increased as has been observed in other cases. Potential causal factors in this lack of or delay in population increase include water quality and presence of other fish species, although the exact reasons for slow population growth are unknown.
Could it be possible that the snakehead’s reputation has been enhanced by the media? An article published in 2002 by the Washington Post titled, “Freakish Fish Causes Fear in Md” a Maryland biologist was quoted as saying, “It’s the baddest bunny in the bush. It has no known predators in this environment, can grow to 15 pounds, and it can get up and walk. What more do you need?” This was actually a misnomer. The fish cannot walk. In the past few days at least ten major media outlets have released horrific predictions about the gruesome “frankenfish” or “fishzilla” that will destroy Central Park’s Harlem Meer. Yet, there’s not been a single location in the United States that has actually experienced problems resulting from introduction to the snakehead. Is there cause for alarm? Or have we all been perpetuating a whopping fish tale?