Delaware River Anglers Encouraged to Report Invasive Snakehead Sightings

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today encouraged anglers in the Delaware River to be on the lookout for northern snakehead, an invasive fish native to Southeast Asia. A northern snakehead was recently caught in the Callicoon area of the Delaware River. Given the right environmental conditions, this invasive species can prey on and compete with other fish, upsetting the natural balance of local ecosystems.

“Northern snakeheads are listed federally as injurious wildlife, and New York State law prohibits their live possession,” Commissioner Seggos said. “Any snakehead caught should be killed immediately and not released back into the water. DEC is asking anglers to report snakeheads, noting the general location of where the fish was caught.”

Northern snakeheads are long, thin fish with a single fin running the length of the back. These invasive fish are generally brown with large, dark blotches along their sides and can grow up to three feet in length. Northern snakeheads have a somewhat flattened head and a large mouth with many teeth. Juveniles feed on a wide variety of microscopic organisms, insect larvae, and crustaceans that native fish rely on for food. As adults, northern snakeheads feed mostly on other fish species, but also crustaceans, reptiles, mammals and small birds. A fact sheet on northern snakehead is available at DEC’s website.

The best method for dealing with northern snakeheads is preventing their spread and establishment. Removal methods, such as netting, electrofishing, or the application of piscicides can also be used, but these approaches would most likely prove futile given the size and flow associated with the Delaware River.

In New York State, snakeheads have been found in two ponds in Queens in 2005, and were eradicated from Ridgebury Lake in Orange County in 2008. DEC is currently sampling the location where the fish was located to determine if the population is widespread. Northern snakehead prefer warm slack water for summer spawning and flows and colder temperatures may serve as a natural barrier against expansion. DEC is also collaborating with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and National Park Service to monitor these invasive fish.

In the event an angler catches a northern snakehead, DEC advises anglers to:

Not release it back to the water;
Kill the fish immediately;
If possible, take pictures of the fish, including close-ups of its mouth, fins, and tail;
Freeze it whole in case DEC needs to verify identification or collect tissue samples. Carcasses missing filets can still be used by the DEC;
Note where it was caught (waterbody, landmarks or GPS coordinates); and
Report the catch to the regional NYS DEC fisheries office, DEC’s Invasive Species Bureau at isinfo@dec.ny.gov or (518) 402-9425, or submit a report through iMapinvasives.