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The History of Northern Snakeheads and Policies Enacted Against ThemIntroduction Invasive species are a growing threat in the United States. “An ‘invasive species’ is a species that is 1) non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and 2) whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health” (National Invasive Species Information Center). They lead to the extinction of native animals and destroy the biodiversity-permanently altering habitats.  Unlike chemical pollutants which eventually break down in the environment, invasive species are biological pollutants that can reproduce and quickly spread. These invasive species are introduced to an area by ship ballast water, accidental release, or by people (the most common). In the past, aquatic invasive species (AIS) have damaged irrigation and water systems, outcompeted native species, and have reduced fish populations in the nearby area. This can be seen in the northeastern region of America where the northern snakehead fish, aka ‘frankenfish’, have invaded the Potomac River. State governments and organizations have enacted policies to prevent the northern snakeheads from doing further damage. Invasion of the Northern Snakeheads The snakeheads are native to parts of Asia and Africa. “Northern snakeheads were purposefully introduced and established into Japan in the early 1900s. They were also introduced into parts of the former Soviet Union (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan) when accidentally mixed with shipments of imported Asian carps. This fish also became established in Russia for a short time in the 1950s and was successfully introduced into Czechoslovakia” (US Fish and Wildlife Services, 2). In these countries, the northern snakeheads were commercially fished and raised on fish farms and were considered a very popular food source.  So how did they get to the United States? Prior to 2002, the northern snakeheads were imported to America. They were sold in live fish markets, pet stores, and even some restaurants in major cities like Boston, New York, and St. Louis. It is believed that some of the northern snakeheads may have been released by aquarium hobbyist or those who were hoping to create a local food resource. In the past, fishermen experienced a decline in native crayfish when the rusty crayfish (a native fish in the great lakes) invaded the Potomac River. “The rusty crayfish out-compete native crayfish for the best habitat, devouring submerged vegetation, fish eggs, macroinvertebrates, and any other food sources in their path. They can reduce the number of species of plants, macroinvertebrates, and fish quickly” (Dalpra 6). But what do the rusty crayfish have to do with northern snakeheads? The northern snakeheads, like the rusty crayfish, mainly cluster in the northeastern region-specifically, the Potomac River. In America, the northern snakehead was first discovered in a pond in Maryland in 2002. Being considered a voracious predator, there was a rapid response to eradicate the fish. However, in 2004 an established population of the northern snakehead was discovered in the Potomac River (Hagan 1).  Given that the female snakeheads reproduce twice a year their population rapidly increased. As their population increased, policies and laws were passed against the northern snakeheads in fear of the damage they could cause. Policies Enacted As mentioned earlier, prior to 2002, snakehead fish were legally imported to the United States. However, once the snakeheads were discovered in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, “officials treated the pond with Rotenone, a poison that affects the respiratory system of the fish. The fish were killed but the incident got major coverage in the media and led to laws prohibiting the importing or keeping of live snakeheads” (Howard 1).   For example, the northern snakeheads were placed as an injurious species under the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act, one of the oldest wildlife-related laws on the books, lists injurious species that are not allowed to be imported or transported between states (Injurious Wildlife 1). While the Lacey Act somewhat prevented more northern snakeheads from being imported, it did not have a solution for the already existing ones or the ones that arrive by boat. The Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990, or NANPCA, was an already existing law that was passed to control the spread of aquatic invasive species. “The act required ships entering the Great Lakes after operating outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone either to first purge their ballast in the open ocean, using a process called ballast water exchange (BWE), or to otherwise treat the water with an environmentally sound alternative technology that is at least as effective as BWE in preventing the discharge of potentially troublesome organisms” (Cangelosi 1). Since this policy wasn’t properly enforced and had no impact whatsoever, Congress made amendments and came out with a new policy under the name: National Invasive Species Act, or NISA.  “NISA furthered aquatic invasive species activities by calling for ballast water regulations, the development of State management plans and regional panels to combat the spread of AIS, and additional AIS outreach and research” (“Laws, Policies, and Regulation”). Since most snakeheads that came by boat arrive from the ballast water, this law should have helped. However, neither the NANPCA or the NISA-since it was voluntary-weren’t fully enforced. So neither of these policies had much of an impact on the control of snakeheads-but there were some state policies that did. For example, the state of Maryland promoted a ‘Stop the Snakehead Fishing Derby.’ Since the Potomac River borders Maryland, they have seen the rise of the northern snakeheads. So they created this derby to “raise awareness and reduce the negative impact of snakeheads in our ecosystems” (Snakehead Derby 1). To encourage people to participate in this derby and catch as many northern snakeheads as possible, Maryland offered prizes such as a $200 gift card to the Bass Pro Shop and they made it a free-fishing day so no fishing license would be required. This derby reduced the number of northern snakeheads in the water that could have potentially been a threat and overall, it had a positive effect. Similarly, since Virginia also borders the Potomac River, it is also affected by the northern snakehead. To control their population, Virginia made it illegal to own a live snakehead. Anyone who is in live possession of the northern snakehead is asked to either kill it or notify the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (Virginia 1). Since a live northern snakehead, if put back in a pond, could survive and reproduce, Virginia passed this law to prevent that from occurring. New SolutionsThe northern snakeheads have been around in the United States since 2002 and are still considered an invasive species. Encouraging fishers to catch more northern snakeheads for a reward could help keep their population in check. Maybe if Maryland and Virginia, as well as other states encourage the fishing of northern snakeheads, their population can be controlled and prevent potential damages. Works Cited”C&O CANAL STOP THE SNAKEHEAD DERBY.”,, Curtis M, and Jennifer D Willoughby, editors. “A River of Grass (and Some Invasive Plants).” Potomac Basin Reporter, vol. 63, no. 5, 2007, pp. 5–6.,, Melissa. “National Exotic Marine and Estuarine Species Information System.”NEMESIS: National Exotic Marine and Estuarine Species Information System, Smithsonian,, Brian Clark. “Fishermen Battle Invasive ‘Frankenfish’ Snakeheads.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 17 Mar. 2016,”Laws, Policies and Regulations.” Official Web Page of the U S Fish and Wildlife Service, US Fish & Wildlife, Exotic Marine and Estuarine Species Information System, Smithsonian, Invasive Species Information Center. “About NISIC – What Is an Invasive Species?”National Invasive Species Information Center, United States Department of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Services. “Invasive Species Program—Snakeheads, Aquatic Invaders.”United States Fish and Wildlife Services, United States Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Injurious Wildlife.” Official Webpage of the U S Fish and Wildlife Service, US Fish & Wildlife,