2005-08-10 / Features

Northern Snakehead Fish Found In Meadow Lake

Due to their potential as predators on native New York fish, the possession and importation of live snakehead was prohibited in New York state as of June 2004. 
Due to their potential as predators on native New York fish, the possession and importation of live snakehead was prohibited in New York state as of June 2004. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), in conjunction with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, announced that several northern snakehead fish have been collected from Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. A total of four snakeheads were discovered during a routine DEC sampling of the lake.

During routine sampling of Meadow Lake last month, DEC staff found three snakehead fish. In response to the initial collection of these exotic fish, DEC conducted more intensive sampling and collected a fourth northern snakehead. The identification of the fish as northern snakeheads has been confirmed by fisheries scientists with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Snakeheads are an exotic species. They are air-breathing freshwater fishes that are native to Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and tropical Africa. Several species of snakeheads are highly valued as food within parts of their native range, while several species are sought by hobbyists through the aquarium trade. The northern snakehead in particular is a popular food fish and is cultured in China and Korea. This species has been exported to other nations, including Canada and the United States where it has been sold alive in certain ethnic markets and restaurants.

Due to their potential as predators on native New York fish, the possession and importation of live snakehead was prohibited in New York state as of June 2004. While many species of snakehead fish cannot survive through the winter in the northern waters of the United States, the northern snakehead may be capable of year-round survival in some New York waters. Northern snakeheads have previously been found in a few bodies of water located in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Meadow Lake is connected to Willow Lake, and the two are isolated from other fresh waters. Although Meadow Lake is a tributary to Flushing Creek, snakeheads’ very low salinity tolerance and the aggressive response of the DEC and the Parks Department should prohibit potential downstream migration out of Meadow Lake.

DEC staff will continue sampling for snakeheads in Meadow and Willow Lakes and, based on findings, will develop and implement response strategies.

The collection of this exotic species from New York waters heightens the awareness of non-native invasive species and the potential impacts of these species on New York’s native flora and fauna. The New York State Invasive Species Task Force (ISTF) recently issued its draft report offering recommendations to minimize the importation and spread of harmful or potentially harmful species into New York. The final ISTF report is expected in November.

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