If anglers suspect they have caught a snakehead in the Catawba River or other state waters, they're asked to keep it, freeze it or place it on ice and report the capture to the WRC by calling (919) 707-0220.
While no new reports of snakehead catches have surfaced since the reported catch and release of a northern snakehead last May, fisheries biologists want to make certain anglers are aware of what they should do if they think they have caught a snakehead.
Snakeheads, native to Asia and Africa, have the potential to cause undesirable impacts on native fishes in waters where they have been illegally introduced by competing with natives for food and habitat, preying upon them and transmitting disease. An established snakehead population could reduce the abundance of popular game and non-game species, affecting angler catch rates.
An angler reportedly caught a fish from the upper Catawba River arm of Lake Wylie last May and thought the fish was a bowfin. He took photographs of the fish before releasing it into the river near Belmont. A few days later, biologists with the WRC and U.S. Geological Survey identified the fish in the photographs as a northern snakehead.
While confusing a bowfin and a snakehead is easy to do, distinguishing between the two species can be straightforward.
"The best way to distinguish between a bowfin and a snakehead is to look at the anal fin, which is the bottom-rear fin near the tail," said Jacob Rash, WRC fisheries biologist. "The snakehead has a very long anal fin, which is more than half the length of the dorsal (back) fin, and the bowfin has a shorter anal fin, which is less than half the length of the dorsal fin."
Because of the potential negative impacts of snakehead on existing fisheries, plus a similar reported sighting at Lake Wylie in 2002, the WRC passed a regulation in 2004 making it illegal to transport, purchase,possess or sell live snakeheads in North Carolina.
The WRC has available at its Web site a list of frequently-asked questions about northern snakehead and a flyer that depicts the differences between a bowfin and a northern snakehead.
Visit www.ncwildlife.org and click on the fishing link to the left.
Additional information about snakeheads is at the U.S. Geological Survey web site, http://fisc.er.usgs.gov/Snakehead_circ_1251/html/flyer.html.