When You Outlaw Snakeheads…


Maryland is debating whether to ban "the pit bull of fish," the lovely, omnivorous snakehead, an "invasive species" that is striking terror into the hearts of Marylanders like Son of Sam did to New Yorkers a few decades back. Importing the fish and transporting it across state lines is already forbidden by the feds.

Snakeheads have been likened to "stomachs with fins" and are known for jumping out of fish tanks, traversing short land areas, and killing other fish when dumped into ponds and rivers. Some breeds are eaten in mostly Asian restaurants; others are popular in fish tanks because, as one pet store owner told The Washington Post, "they eat other fish.".

The Post story, which details owners' worries that their pets are about to become illegal aliens subject round-ups, is online here.

Reason Managing Editor Jesse Walker authored a novel way to combat snakehead proliferation back when the fish first surfaced as a major threat to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That's online here.

And Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey poured some cold water on worries about "invasive species" here.

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  1. “Me, me, me!” Unfortunately, there’s a grain of truth in taking things away from you for the common good. Apparently Singapore’s or China’s ecosystem is able to deal with the snakefish, however, Maryland’s ecosystem is not. If Jesse Walker wants a yummy meal I suggest he fly to Singapore rather than depopulating our lakes.

  2. I wonder:

    Does calling them the “pit bull of fish” mean you can pit them against each other? Could snakehead contests become the new cockfight?

  3. Ron “Dr. Pangloss” Bailey can always be counted on happily leap into the unknown without a parachute. Unfortunately, his prescriptions involve taking the rest of us with him.

  4. Laugh if you want, but since they reproduce invasive species are more dangerous than chemicals. The most dangerous invasive species are micro-organisms. Sooner or later we are going to get hurt in a big way.

    Here’s a thought: illegal immigrants are an ‘invasive species’ slowly ethnic cleansing the native Americans (and slaughtering them in large numbers, mostly from accidents, while they do it).

  5. I was trying so hard to keep from commenting on this thread, but then I noticed this classic:

    “Most of the invasive species you end up noticing are the bad ones”

    Well, Sherlock, that’s why they call the bad ones “invasive” species and the others “non-native” species. In fact, that’s not fair, because it’s clear that the author meant “non-native”. But what’s also clear is that Ron Bailey is not making the same distinction. Yes, invasive species can be controlled with bio-controls. But it takes a whole lot of volunteer work to get it done in a non-geological time frame. (Of course, on the geologic time frame, we’re all extinct anyway, so who gives a damn, eh?) In any case, biocontrol only works on some of the invasive species, not all. From the family expert: purple loosestrife and rosa multiflora are on the way out. But glossy buckthorn, honeysuckle, and barberry are more than taking up the slack. And if you actually go for a walk in the (private) woods that are infested with these things, you’ll see it really is a property-rights violation.

    Your god-damn yard ornament took over my back 40! Here’s a shotgun that says you aint gonna do it again!

  6. Maryland shouldn’t worry so much. I figure an opportunistic fish like the snakehead will be heading in droves for Virginia once they figure out the tax rate is lower down there.

  7. The only thing that prevents my neighbor’s kudzu from reaching my yard is occassional traffic. Right now it is 3/4 of the way across the road. It has designs on my new fence.

    Pretty bad when you hope more rolling boomboxes will cruise through.

    Re snakeheads. Years ago I had a boyfriend with snakeheads, three over time. When he got them they were quite small. Little over an inch in a 30 gallon tank. We fed them minnows. They soon reached 6 inches and graduated to bluegill, small catfish, largemouth bass, walleye, crawdads, puppies (just kidding about the puppies). You could drop a 6 inch bluegill in and it would be toast in short order. He didn’t take the pirahnna rapid bite method. It would be slow, deliberate, large chunks. Once at 12 inches he would eat bass his own size or larger.

    And yes, if you put two in a tank only one will be left within an hour.

    Once they got too big for the tank boyfriend would let them go as it was obvious that they were inclined to outgrow their environment, unlike some fish which will not. In any case, I’ve always felt badly about his release of them.

    However, I’ve not heard any news of the Holston or Tennessee Rivers being over run with snakeheads. Maybe they were all the same gender. Maybe a combination of the Oak Ridge bluegill and hotdogs made them sterile. Maybe they just never ran across each other. Who knows. But they were purchased at the local fish store until the owner voluntarily ceased selling them.

    To the post above…more anecdote. I’ve been battling Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) or as I like to call it “Die You FuckingOpportunisticVine DIE BASTARD DIE”, for 5 years. It was planted, naively, by the old lady who built this house. I’ve beat it back but its been tremendous work and shitloads of herbacide. Every weekend I must pitch battle or it will be back consuming my camellias and cedars in now time. I understand this species is causing trouble all through south Georgia, parts of Alabama and Florida, much like Kudzu.

    Other herbaceous enemies in my territory…morning glory (not an annual DOWN HERE dammit), trumpet creeper, smylex, honeysuckle, dewberry, potato vine. The only thing I don’t have to battle is the street crossing kudzu (planted by the naive old lady across the way to feed her milk cow back in 1960).


  8. The snakehead ate my baby.

  9. They can have my snakehead when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers…

  10. Most of the invasive species that you end up noticing are the bad ones. Yes, there are some definite goods from non-native species in use, but I definitely would like to see more care with non-native species. Not that they will all multiply like Mile-a-Minute Weed or Multiflora Rose, or Kudzu, but some of them will. Unfortunately, a lot of those infestations happen really by accident, with no negligence on the part of any party. The flora and fauna are just that good.

    A ban on snakeheads might end up being counter-productive, tho. What penalties would there be? A fine of some sort? I can see attempts to avoid such a penalty by… dumping the fish in a local pond. Or even dumping it as ‘retaliation’ against those crummy bureaucrats. Not the best way to keep it out of the ecosystem. Plus, the article mentions how the threat of a ban increases demand for something. People like to get ‘exotic’ things, and some of the people most attracted to things that are banned are the people who won’t be responsible with them. So, great job making people want them, Maryland.

    And if I never hear the word ‘Snakehead’ again, it’ll be too soon.

  11. Great Bailey article, one of his best. Thanks for the link.

    Speaking of Kudzu;
    My father grew up on a farm in Western Tennessee. Kudzu was intentionally brought in to stop erosion. He tells me that the first three years were touch and go. Apparently the goats and other livestock had a preference for the new shoots and had to be constantly kept away from the fragile vines. After the third year the vines took hold and quickly spread.

    Decades later, the Kudzu still colonizes the gullies on the farm. They will readily overrun anything they are allowed to, tractors, sheds, open fields. But keeping it in check is not a problem. Wherever it escapes its designated area, it can be cut back or plowed under. Also Kudzu requires direct sunlight. Much of the farm is untended woodland, and while the Kudzu will quickly envelop a lone tree, it has not made inroads into the woods.

    As to the intended purpose it was brought in for. The sandy soil of the area is particularly susceptible to erosion. My father has no doubt at all, that if it were not for the Kudzu the farm would have long ago washed away.

  12. Boyfriend With Snakeheads would be a way-cool name for a band.

    I wouldn’t like to see the snakehead in Lake Michigan, unless it were gengineered to hunger only for the alewives and the zebra mussels.


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