Snakehead scare on the Nansemond

Published 9:25 pm Monday, September 14, 2009

Eric Brantley and a group of friends caught a big fish on Monday on the banks of the Nansemond River. For a little while, they thought they had an even bigger fish story.

Fishing from the shore, just behind McDonald’s on Main Street, Brantley hooked something exciting.

“It was biting and jumping out of the water,” said Brantley.

“The next thing, the rod was bending down and it was pulling so much it pulled the whole rod out of the socket,” said Brantley.

With assistance from Calvin B. Holland, the two guys got the rod back together, then fought to pull the fish in as it thrashed all over the top of the river.

“It kept trying to jump, and it was real aggressive,” said Brantley.

“It took both of us, just from the force of the fish and how it was fighting us,” said Holland.

Even once the fish was out of the river, it was a battle to avoid being bitten while putting it in a bucket. Brantley, Holland, Luc Young and Bryan Davis took the fish, about 18 inches long and very slender, to a nearby seafood market to try and identify it. Once the guys got home, they Googled for an answer.

Initially, they thought they might have a Snakehead fish. They called an official with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, who told them not to release it and keep it until someone could come and inspect it.

Once the inspection was done, the plan was to make the fish dinner. In Asia, Snakeheads are seen as culinary delicacies.

A few hours later, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said the fish was not a Snakehead.

Julia Dixon, a media relations specialist with VDGIF, said game officials were able to identify the fish as a bowfin from a photo that Holland sent via email.

Snakeheads are indigenous to Africa and Asia, most notably China, and are illegal to keep as pets in the United States.

In 2002, Northern Snakehead fish were found in three freshwater ponds in Maryland. Two Snakeheads, one male and one female, were dumped into one pond two years earlier. They were pets that had outgrown the owner’s tank.

Female snakeheads can lay 150,000 eggs in two years. Snakeheads can survive out of water and crawl short distances to other bodies of water. Snakeheads eat other fish, frogs and even small mammals. Snakeheads introduced artificially to an environment can do damage to it quickly.

Maryland officials had to poison the Snakeheads, killing more than 1,000 juvenile fish.

Since 2002, the only story about a Snakehead in the U.S. was in Wisconsin in 2003, but the fisherman released the fish before it could be identified.