The northern snakehead is an invasive species of fish that has become established in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Northern snakehead can be identified by noting their slender body shape, rounded tail, snake-shaped head, brown coloration, mottled sides, and other features.
Snakeheads were first discovered in a Maryland pond in 2002. Over time, the range of northern snakeheads has expanded to a number of waterways in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and other parts of the USA.
In 2004, the species was found in the Potomac River. Northern snakeheads quickly established populations in the Potomac watershed from Great Falls to the river mouth, including many of the river’s tributaries.
In the upper bay region, snakeheads have been reported in the lower Susquehanna, Bird, Rhode, Gunpowder, and other tributaries.
In 2020, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) reported that numerous snakeheads had entered the reservoir above Conowingo Dam (Conowingo Pool) via the dam’s fish lifts.
In 2022, northern snakeheads were found in several lagoons on Poplar Island. The man-made island is located in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay near Easton Maryland.
Below the Potomac, northern snakeheads have established breeding populations in the Rappahannock, York, and James rivers as well as Lake Anna and other reservoirs.
On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, snakehead populations are established in practically all major rivers. Snakeheads are common the Nanticoke, Choptank, Blackwater, Transquaking, Chicamacomico, and Wicomico rivers.
Snakeheads are frequently caught by fishermen. They readily take live baits and artificial lures. They are also harvested by bowfishing and other alternative fishing techniques.
Maryland, Virginia, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission all prohibit the possession of live northern snakeheads. Federal law prohibits the transport of live snakeheads into the U.S. or across State lines.
In 2022, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began a cooperative tagging program to monitor northern snakeheads in the Chesapeake Bay and Blackwater River.