Suspected Northern Snakehead fish caught in Ontario
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Sunday, August 8, 2010 8:59PM EDT
There are fears a potential threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem has found its way into Canadian waters, after an Ontario woman landed what may be a vicious, invasive species of fish.
When lifelong fisherwoman Amy Merry decided to try a new fishing spot on the Welland Canal that links Lakes Erie and Ontario last weekend, she didn't expect to reel in a voracious foreign invader.
But when Merry finally landed her big catch, it was unlike anything she'd ever seen before.
"As I kept reeling it in, it would take off and pull the line back out. I thought it was going to snap the line or even the pole," Merry told CTV.
"It actually jumped out of the water and landed at me."
Merry canvassed other local fishermen before turning to the Internet for guidance. After a little digging, she decided that her 21-inch catch had to be a Northern Snakehead.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada warns the Northern Snakehead, which is native to eastern Asia, cannot be allowed into Canadian waters or it will destroy ecosystems and the fish that call them home.
There are 36 species of the snakehead, a fish that has "a long history of invasions," the department says on its website in an article entitled "Not Welcome in Canada: Preventing a Northern Snakehead Invasion."
According to the report, the snakehead can live out of water for days as it pursues prey or searches for a new home. There is evidence that some have lived after being frozen, making it well-suited to Canadian waters.
The fish can grow to as long as 1.8 metres, and is known for razor-sharp teeth that can bite prey clean in half.
The Northern Snakehead is of particular concern in Canada because it occurs naturally in colder waters. It has also already been found in some U.S states, where officials believe they were released into lakes by food markets or by private citizens who no longer wanted them as pets.
A report conducted by scientists Becky Cudmore and Nick Mandrak of the Centre of Expertise for Aquatic Risk Assessment at Fisheries and Oceans found that the Northern Snakehead has the potential to escape into the wild in Canada due to its presence in the live food trade.
"If this were to happen, the snakeheads were quite likely to survive, reproduce and spread to other areas," Fisheries and Oceans warns. "Serious impacts on ecosystems would also be likely, as the snakehead could prey aggressively on many native fishes and compete with others for food."
Cudmore and Mandrak's report said while the Northern Snakehead would likely find it difficult to survive in the extreme north of Canada, the Great Lakes area, as well as Vancouver Island, are at risk. According to Fisheries and Oceans, selling Snakeheads is prohibited in Ontario, but not in British Columbia.
Fears over the Northern Snakehead are growing as lawmakers in both the U.S. and Canada grapple with another predator fish: the Asian carp.
The invasive fish has been migrating toward the Great Lakes through the U.S. river system and officials fear it will decimate the region's ecosystem. The Asian carp can weigh as much as 45 kilograms and eat half its weight in plankton, which is the base of the Great Lakes food chain.
Officials fear the Asian carp will starve out other fish in the food chain, crippling the region's multi-billion dollar fishing industry.
Until officials confirm exactly what Merry caught, she's already certain of one thing: it tasted great.
"It didn't have a fishy taste to it, it wasn't flaky like normal fish, it was white meat but very tasteful," she said.
With files from CTV's Natalie Johnson
The head of the suspected snakehead fish caught in Ontario is seen in this undated photo, Near Fort Erie.
Maryland state Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Tim Groves holds a juvenile northern snakehead which he has just caught at a pond in Crofton, Md., Thursday, July 18, 2002. (AP Photo/Alex Dorgan-Ross)