Snakehead fish nowhere to be seen after sweep of Burnaby, B.C. pond

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

A dispatch from the front of the war against the horror movie-worthy snakehead fish: It has not spawned. At least experts don't think so.

It all started when a stroller recorded what looked like a northern snakehead lolling in a pond in Central Park in Burnaby, next-door to Vancouver, on May 13.

The video set off alarm bells among marine biologists. Northern snakeheads, which originate in Asia and Africa, are an invasive, fast-breeding predatory fish whose arrival anywhere spells trouble for native species.

It can grow to a metre in length and its mouth is equipped with rows of sharp teeth. The snakehead also has a primitive set of lungs that allows it to move on land. It's been known to jump out of the water to take small animals.

Another park visitor shot video of the alleged snakehead last week, the Burnaby Now newspaper reported.

"It's a really cool-looking fish, but that fish definitely shouldn't be in there. It's so aggressive, especially if it's not the only one in there," said Burnaby resident Bruce Causier, who shot the video May 17.

"If they start breeding, they are going to wipe out all of the fish in that pond," he said. "It would be nice if someone did catch it."

A team from the B.C. Environment Ministry descended on Central Park this week to sweep its ponds for the snakehead, which some have dubbed "frankenfish."

Ministry officials had good news Thursday, reporting there was no evidence of any young snakeheads in the initial sweep.

"No juveniles were found," Matthias Herborg, invasive-species co-ordinator, told the Vancouver Province.

"That's a great sign. Hopefully they have not reproduced. Maybe there's just one or a few. I'm relatively confident there is not a large population of snakehead.'

But the searchers didn't turn up the adult snakehead either.

Instead, they snared other non-native species, including carp, a read-eared slider turtle, bullheads, goldfish and bullfrog tadpole larvae.

"The fact they are non-native highlights the issue," said Herborg. "People are well-intentioned when they release things which have outgrown their aquariums, but unfortunately it is not good for the environment. Please don't release pets in the waterways."

If a snakehead made it into Central Park pond it was likely released by someone who'd kept it as a pet or decided against eating it after buying it at a supermarket that sells live fish for food.

The B.C. government is considering banning the sale of live snakeheads, following in Ontario's footsteps.