Delaware fishing group: "Snakehead fish are NOT monsters"

One group of anglers wants to end the stigma surrounding snakehead fish, a species they say has been given a bad rap and is not trying to take over waterways in Delaware.

Mike Schwander, president of Delaware Snakehead Fishing, says the stigma that snakehead fish are invasive and overly aggressive is a false narrative that he and others feel is no longer needed.

"The whole invasive thing is a stigma that I am trying to get past, and trying to get the state to get past eventually because it's a little harsh and it's not really needed anymore," he said. "The most important thing to know about them is that they're not trying to take over our waters. They are living in harmony in the rivers and larger ponds where they're at, and the one thing that I want everybody to know is snakeheads are not monsters."

Schwander said two decades have passed since they first showed up in local waterways, and since then they have not lived up to the threat that they were believed to be at the time. 

"At first, they believed they were going to take over. 'All the bass will be gone, all the perch will be gone, and it'll just be snakehead everywhere.' And it never happened," he said. "What happened was they climaxed. They hit this point and they leveled out, they found a niche, and they're living in harmony in most of the waters that they're in. Everybody is still catching bass, still catching pickerel, perch, sunfish and everything else. It's not as bad as everybody made them out to be when they first showed up."

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) classifies snakehead fish as an invasive species. A regulation was passed in 2013 to prohibit the transport, purchase, sale, stocking and possession of live snakeheads in Delaware.

Edna Stetzar, DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife fisheries biologist, said there hasn't been enough research to conclusively determine their impact to the ecosystem in Delaware. 

"As far as their impact on the local fish communities here in Delaware, the jury's still out on that, in other words there hasn't been enough research to say one way or the other," she said. "The concern with them is that they can rapidly expand their populations and they have the ability to out-compete some of the native species that we have, or maybe the more important game fish that we have. Whether they're doing that or not, that remains to be seen with research."

Anyone who catches a snakehead in Delaware is encouraged to kill it and notify the Division of Fish & Wildlife at (302) 735-8654 or 739-9914 or Edna.Stetzar@state.de.us with information on the date and specific location of the catch and the size of the fish.

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