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March of the Snakeheads

Open season on these “voracious predators”

Reader Jesse Ledford asks: “Are there any reports on snakeheads in the Patuxent River? I’ve seen one in a lake in Lusby that runs into the Patuxent.”
    There sure are, and that’s not the only place. Scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have received reports of snakehead fish in the Patuxent, with some caught in the main stem near Jug Bay. The Potomac is prime snakehead territory. The highly adaptable predator has also shown up on the Eastern Shore in the Nanticoke, Wicomico, and Blackwater rivers.
    Northern snakeheads, as they’re officially called, are a fish native to China. But in 2002 the species appeared within the Chesapeake Bay’s own watershed. From a pond in Crofton, they’ve spread widely. This is trouble because snakeheads breed rapidly and eat local fish. Females spawn multiple times per year and usually release around 40,000 eggs. Maryland Department of Natural Resources describes these fish as “voracious predators.” All these snakeheads eating the population of native fish disturbs the Bay’s fragile ecosystem.

Blackened Snakehead

11⁄2 tablespoon paprika
1
tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper    
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon of kosher salt

1 snakehead filet skinned and cut into 4 pieces
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees

    In a mixing bowl combine the first nine ingredients. (This blackening spice works great with all fish, game and poultry for blackening and smoking. It can be stored for quite some time.)
    
With a dry towel pat the fish. Coat each piece on one side with a generous amount of blackening seasoning.
    Place 1 tablespoon cooking oil into a cast iron skillet and place over high heat. Once the pan has heated (you’ll know its hot when the oil is about to smoke and slides freely across the pan), place fish in the pan seasoned side down and press gently with a spatula.
Allow the fish to sear approximately 3 minutes.
Gently turn and sear for 1 minute. Place fish in oven and cook 3 to 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the filet.

    What to do? Catch and eat them.
    To help curb the invasion, DNR added an Invasive Species Award category to the annual Maryland Fishing Challenge. So now catching snakeheads in the Bay not only helps keep the ecosystem healthy but also can win you prizes. Info at http://tinyurl.com/m9dljpt.
    The fish themselves are a prize as well. They may not look like it, but they are quite tasty. Snakeheads are popular on the menus in their homeland of Asia, and you can enjoy their taste as well.
    How to cook such a fish?
    Executive Chef Chad Wells of Alewife in Baltimore offered this recipe to Maryland Natural Resource Magazine.