Scientists are relieved the monstrous snakehead found in a Burnaby pond last year isn’t the northern species of the ferocious fish.
A team of biologists published the results of their study into the incident in the Management of Biological Invasions Journal on Sunday, saying the half-metre long fish caught at the Central Park lagoon (the first snakehead found in Canadian waters) was from a species unlikely to thrive in the local climate.
“They’re pretty similar in size but we were relieved this was a blotched snakehead [instead of a northern snakehead],” said lead author David Scott, of Simon Fraser University. “Though there’s not a lot of study on it, it’s not a species predicted to be able to survive the winter we have here now.”
It appears a lone snakehead – a highly invasive subtropical freshwater fish native to Asia, Russia and Africa – was released into the lagoon a couple of months before being caught.
A pair of northern snakefish – which are able to survive in cooler climates – would have had the ability to breed and spread throughout the Fraser River watershed.
The fish has a lung that allows them to breathe and move short distances on land for a few days.
The results would have been devastating to salmon-bearing streams and other wildlife.
In the United States, fisheries managers expect an invasion of northern snakeheads in the Potomac River could lead to a 35 per cent population reduction of largemouth bass.
“We want people to know they should never release a non-native species into the wild,” he said. “It’s never a good idea. The possibility of northern snakeheads getting to the Fraser River watershed is a serious concern.”
In light of the discovery, the B.C. government strengthened the Wildlife Act to ban possession, transport and breeding of all snakehead species.
The voracious, sharp-toothed fish are valued in eastern cultures for their perceived healing properties and are often illegally smuggled into the province.
The team that studied the incident were made up of scientists from Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, University of Guelph and the B.C. Ministry of Environment.